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Long-term Study of an Alpine Grassland: Stubbornly Coping with Climate Change

Paper Reviewed
Windmaißer, T. and Reisch, C. 2013. Long-term study of an alpine grassland: local constancy in times of global change. Alpine Botany 123: 1-6.

In the words of Windmaißer and Reisch (2013), "rising temperature and prolonged growing seasons are generally assumed to result in upward migration of plant species from lower to higher alpine and nival regions (Guisan and Theurillat, 2000; Theurillat and Guisan, 2001)." What is more, it is a tenant of climate alarmism that rising temperatures will push some plants in alpine regions to extinction, presupposing the flora in such locations are unable to cope with or adapt to projected increases in temperature.

In a study designed to test this hypothesis, Windmaißer and Reisch analyzed vegetation surveys from 99 non-permanent plots located in the southern part of the high valley of Hochmossferner, near Greitspitze (47°03'18"N, 11°11'48" E) in the Central Alps that were performed at approximate 2-year intervals between 1980 and 2012. Mean temperatures obtained from a location situated near the study site revealed an increase of approximately 1.2°C over this period, which led the pair of German botanists to postulate they would find "shifts in the cover of the grassland species and increasing species richness due to immigration of species from lower altitudes."

A total of 59 species were identified in the plot surveys, yet according to Windmaißer and Reisch neither plant species richness, evenness, nor diversity decreased or increased over the period of study such that they "observed almost no changes in the composition of the analyzed alpine grassland." With respect to the observed temperature increase since 1980, the authors add that any influence of this warming "could not be detected in [their vegetation survey] data set." As a result of their work, Windmaißer and Reisch state that their findings "amend the conclusion of previous studies (de Witte et al., 2012) that not only long-lived alpine plant species but also plant communities can persist in alpine ecosystems despite considerable climatic change." In other words, their work demonstrates that alpine flora have a much greater ability to adapt to rising temperatures than climate models generally project, which indicates that alarmist predictions of their widespread decline and extinction are highly unlikely and exaggerated.

de Witte, L.C., Armbruster, G., Gielly, L., Taberlet, P. and Stöcklin, J. 2012. AFLP markers reveal high clonal diversity and extreme longevity in four key arctic-alpine species. Molecular Ecology 21: 1081-1097.

Guisan, A. and Theurillat, J.P. 2000. Assessing alpine plant vulnerability to climate change: a modelling perspective. Integrative Assessment 1: 307-320.

Theurillat, J.P. and Guisan, A. 2001. Potential impact of climate change on vegetation in the European Alps: a review. Climatic Change 50: 77-109.

Posted 7 October 2014