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Higher ground: plants seeking colder temperatures

Flowers take up mountaineering

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A study conducted by the University of Vienna and published in Science has found that all across Europe, plants are moving to higher altitudes.

Billed as the first pan-continental study of the impact of climate change on Europe’s flora, the research warns that while the scientists found more species being observed on mountain tops, the change is leading towards less species diversity overall.

For example, the study has found, while central and northern European summits exhibit greater species richness, numbers were stagnant or declining at “nearly all sites in the Mediterranean region”.

Even where the number of plant species is increasing, the study finds, some alpine species are being crowded out.

Michael Gottfried from the Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments (GLORIA) program is quoted in the university’s release as saying “the newly appearing plants are predominantly more widespread species from lower elevations and will pose increasing competition pressure on the rarer cold-loving alpine flowers”.

Gottfried worked with Harald Pauli, Stefan Dullinger and Georg Grabherr on the joint project between the University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Sciences. They conducted a detailed survey of 66 mountain summits in Europe, mapping all plant species observed at all sites between 2001 and 2008.

The abstract of their paper in Science is here. ®

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