Europe's mountains show clear and rapid change to a warming climate
The decade from 2000 to 2009 was the warmest since global climate has been measured, and while localized studies have shown evidence of changes in mountain plant communities that reflect this warming trend, no study has yet taken a continental-scale view of the situation â€“ until now.
With the publication of "Continent-wide response of mountain vegetation to climate change," scheduled for Advance Online Publication (AOP) in Nature Climate Change on 8 January, researchers from 13 countries report clear and statistically significant evidence of a continent-wide warming effect on mountain plant communities.
The findings are "clearly significant," says Ottar Michelsen, a researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and one of the article's co-authors. "You can find studies that have shown an effect locally, and where researchers try to say something more globally, but in this case, when you have so many mountains in so many regions and can show an effect, that's a big thing."
The article describes the results of a comprehensive effort to measure plant community changes in the mountains over the whole of Europe, with nearly a decade of time between the sampling efforts. Researchers looked at 60 summit sites and 867 vegetation samples from 17 mountain areas across Europe in 2001 and then revisited the mountain sample sites in 2008. In Norway, researchers studied mountain plots in the Dovre region of central Norway.
By comparing the vegetation found in the sample plots in 2001 and 2008, the researchers were able to see a clear shift in the species in the plots towards species that preferred warmer temperatures.