Faculté des sciences

Evidence of response of vegetation to environmental change on high-elevation sites in the Swiss Alps

Keller, Franciska ; Kienast, F. ; Bensiton, Martin

In: Regional Environmental Change, 2000, vol. 1(2), p. 70

Climate change has in the past led to shifts in vegetation patterns; in a future, warmer climate due to enhanced greenhouse-gas concentrations, vegetation is also likely to be highly responsive to such warming. Mountain regions are considered to be particularly sensitive to such changes. In this paper we present an approach to assess the impact of climate change on long-term vegetation plots at... More

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    Summary
    Climate change has in the past led to shifts in vegetation patterns; in a future, warmer climate due to enhanced greenhouse-gas concentrations, vegetation is also likely to be highly responsive to such warming. Mountain regions are considered to be particularly sensitive to such changes. In this paper we present an approach to assess the impact of climate change on long-term vegetation plots at the high-elevation site of the Schynige Platte, 2000 m above sea level, in the Bernese Alps (Switzerland). Records of vegetation spanning the period from 1928 to today at two different sites, each with several plots, were considered. The observed change in the species composition was then related to changes in land use and climate. We used daily values of temperature, snow and precipitation from several high-elevation weather stations to conduct these analyses. The correlation between climate and vegetation patterns revealed that species that prefer low thermal conditions move out of the plots, i.e., their frequency of occurrence is negatively correlated with the average number of degree-days over the last six decades. On the other hand, species with higher thermal demands are seen to be invading the plots, i.e., their frequency of occurrence is positively correlated to the average number of degree-days. Nutrient changes - though independent from climate - also play an important role in the observed shifts in species.