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Talus Slopes: Refugia for Cold-Adapted Species that Live in Them?

Paper Reviewed
Ruzicka, V., Zacharda, M., Smilauer, P. and Kucera, T. 2015. Can paleoregufia of cold-adapted species in talus slopes resist global warming? Boreal Environment Research 20: 403-412.

Ruzicka et al. (2015) introduce the subject of their study by writing that "in central Europe, which has a temperate climate, some low-altitude stony accumulations feature a limited area of cold microclimate at their lower margin," citing Balch (1900), Wakonigg (1996), Gude et al. (2003) and Zacharda et al. (2005, 2007), which talus slopes, as they continue "are inhabited by isolated populations of boreal and alpine plants and invertebrates," citing Ruzicka (2011) and Ruzicka et al. (2012), while further noting that "similarly, in northeastern Iowa [USA], algific talus slopes also harbor populations of boreal invertebrates," which cold-retaining habitats Nekola (1999) described as paleorefugia.

Feeling driven to further explore this intriguing concept, Ruzicka et al. (2015) noted that "in central Europe, some boreal and arctic organisms can survive in low-altitude freezing talus slopes disjunct from their normal ranges far to the north." And thus intrigued, they proceeded to measure - over a period of five years - both the external and internal air temperatures of low-elevation talus slopes at three locations in the North Bohemia region of the Czech Republic.

This work revealed, as the four Czech researchers describe it, that "the talus microclimate can be sufficiently resistant to an increase of mean annual atmospheric temperature by 3°C, retaining a sufficient number of freezing days during the winter season." And, therefore, they concluded that "based on our data, we can justifiably suppose that even such an extent of warming in the future (an increase of mean annual atmospheric temperature by 3°C) will not endanger the cold talus ecosystems."

Balch, E.S. 1900. Glaciers or Freezing Caverns. Allen, Lane and Scott, Philadelphia (USA).

Gude, M., Dietrich, S., Mausbacher, R., Hauck, C., Molenda, R., Ruzicka, V. and Zacharda, M. 2003. Probable occurrence of sporadic permafrost in non-alpine scree slopes in central Europe. In: Phillips, M., Springman, S.M. and Arenson, L.J. (Eds.) Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Permafrost. Balkema, Lisse, pp. 331-336.

Nekola, J.C. 1999. Paleorefugia and neorefugia: the influence of colonization history on community pattern and process. Ecology 80: 2459-2473.

Ruzicka, V. 2011. Central European habitats inhabited by spiders with disjunctive distributions. Polish Journal of Ecology 59: 367-380.

Ruzicka, V., Zacharda, M., Nemcova, L., Smilauer, P. and Nekola, J.C. 2012. Periglacial microclimate in low-altitude scree slopes supports relict biodiversity. Journal of Natural History 46: 2145-2157.

Wakonigg, H. 1996. Unterkuhlte Schutthalden, Arbeiten aus dem Institut fur Geographie der Karl-Franzens-Universitat Graz (Beitrage zur Permafrostforschung in Osterreich) 33: 209-223.

Zacharda, M., Gude, M., Kraus, S., Hauck, C., Molenda, R. and Ruzicka, V. 2005. The relict mite Rhagidia gelida (Acari. Rhagidiidae) as a biological cryoindicator of periglacial microclimate in European highland screes. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 37: 402-408.

Zacharda, M., Gude, M. and Ruzicka, V. 2007. Thermal regime of three low elevation scree slopes in central Europe. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 18: 301-308.

Posted 9 October 2015