As a result of an image of the Alps as something mysterious, the predominant thinking in the 19th century in Central Europe was that alpine animals were something very special. It was held that they could only survive in high altitudes due to special adaptations to these particular alpine environments. If we look closer, however, we find that many adaptations that have proved useful in alpine habitats have evolved elsewhere.
So what is a typical alpine animal? How can we characterise an alpine animal? In what habitats do they live? And what adaptations do they show?
Comparing animals from all over the world is only possible when looking at vertebrates. The knowledge of the biology, or even the systematics, of invertebrates is very poor. For that reason, the focus in this unit will be on vertebrates, especially on mammals. Nevertheless, some information on all kinds of animals will be presented at times.