Nationalparks Austria NPA
Eintrag Nr. 50401
Recent changes in high-mountain plant community functional composition in contrasting climate regimes
GLORIA (GLobal Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments)
Fachbereich Naturschutz & Forschung
Steinbauer, Klaus; Lamprecht, Andrea; Winkler, Manuela; Di Cecco, Valter; Fasching, Veronika; Ghosn, Dany; Maringer, Alexander; Remoundou, Ilektra; Suen, Michael; Stanisci, Angela; Venn, Susanna; Pauli, Harald
High-mountain plant communities are strongly determined by abiotic conditions, especially low temperature, and are therefore susceptible to effects of climate warming. Rising temperatures, however, also lead to increased evapotranspiration, which, together with projected shifts in seasonal precipitation patterns, could lead to prolonged, detrimental water deficiencies. The current study aims at comparing alpine plant communities along elevation and water availability gradients from humid conditions (north-easternAlps) to a moderate (Central Apennines) and a pronounced dry period during summer (Lefka Ori, Crete) in the Mediterranean area. We do this in order to (1) detect relationships between community-based indices (plant functional leaf and growth traits, thermic vegetation indicator, plant life forms, vegetation cover and diversity) and soil temperature and snowduration and (2) assess if climatic changes have already affected the vegetation, by determining directional changes over time (14-year period; 20012015) in these indices in the three regions. Plant community indices responded to decreasing temperatures along the elevation gradient in the NE-Alps and the Apennines, but this elevation effect almost disappeared in the summer-dry mountains of Crete. This suggests a shift from low-temperature to drought-dominated ecological filters. Leaf trait (Leaf Dry Matter Content and Specific Leaf Area) responses changed in direction from the Alps to the Apennines, indicating that drought effects already become discernible at the northern margin of the Mediterranean. Over time, a slight increase in vegetation cover was found in all regions, but thermophilisation occurred only in the NE-Alps and Apennines, accompanied by a decline of coldadapted cushion plants in the Alps. On Crete, xeromorphic shrubs were increasing in abundance. Although critical biodiversity losses have not yet been observed, an intensified monitoring of combined warmingdrought impacts will be required in view of threatened alpine plants that are either locally restricted in the south or weakly adapted to drought in the north.