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Alpine plants affected by temperature rise

The trends in temperature variability in the Alps are comparable to the differences recorded in the Himalayas; there is a 0.6 centigrade increase per decade warming of the average alpine temperature at least in the Swiss, Austrian and German Alps, says Ecoclimatology Professor Annette Menzel from Technische Universität München while summarizing her decade long research at the Schneefernerhaus research facility on the German summit of Zugspitze (2,962 meters / 9,718 ft.).


But, Menzel says, the fact that affects vegetation to a larger extent is the variability of temperature between seasons and between different areas. Menzel worked for the 4th Assessment Report of the IPCC on deriving footprint of climate change on nature and she observed a direct link between zones of higher temperature and radical changes in nature: earlier spring, longer vegetation periods, changes in productivity, changes in the ranges of species, invasive vegetation and different composition of ecosystems.

After research of phenological data of different endemic species at various altitudes in the Bavarian Alps, Menzel came to the conclusion that “for forest vegetation, the growing season is lengthening: one degree increase in average temperature translates into two more weeks of growing season.” Species react differently, “beech might profit from this longer growing season, while spruce does not,” she adds.

An interesting situation is the fact that local Bavarian farmers did not change the days of hey cutting over the last decades whereas flowering does change. As opposed to Carpathian shepherds or phenology observers mentioned by Randin, “that means for us that farmers do not track climate change as they could do,” mentions Menzel. This should be looked more into detail in the future, she concludes.

Raul Cazan

*The interview was facilitated by the Alpine Convention during We Are Alps! 2015

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