The hills are alive – with a changing plant mix

This alpine species (Nevadensia purpurea) could disappear from some European mountains in the next few decades Credit: Harald Pauli

This alpine species (Nevadensia purpurea) could disappear from some European mountains in the next few decades Credit: Harald Pauli

Higher temperatures could lead plants living at the top of Europe’s mountains to decline and disappear, as they face greater competition with plants from warmer, lower levels. That’s one finding from surveys of 17 mountain areas conducted by 17 different research teams, co-ordinated by Harald Pauli from the University of Vienna and Austrian Academy of Sciences. Comparing surveys performed in 2008 and 2001 shows that changes are already happening across the continent, and faster than the scientists might have thought. “Alpine vegetation often is given as an example of a highly resilient ecosystem, with slow-growing but long-lived plants that may not see dramatic changes over decades,” Pauli said. “Based on previous studies, we did expect that species composition will change, but not that we would get a significant signal after just 7 years.”

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