Shrub encroachment and microclimate dynamics in alpine ecosystems

01 October 2022 → 30 September 2025
Regional and community funding: Special Research Fund
Research disciplines
  • Natural sciences
    • Community ecology
    • Global ecology
    • Terrestrial ecology
    • Conservation and biodiversity
    • Landscape ecology
Shrub encroachment Micro- and macroclimatic change Alpine plant communities
Project description

Despite the general consensus that alpine ecosystems are threatened under climate change, a growing number of studies is now revealing that mountain floras can show remarkable resistance to climate change. A possible explanation for this apparent immunity is that small mountain plants are experiencing a “climate near the ground” (i.e. microclimate), which is partially decoupled from changes in the regional macroclimate. Shrubs are common plant types in the alpine zone, and changes in their canopy cover could have an important impact on the local microclimate. This effect of shrubs on microclimate could in turn modify how alpine plant communities respond to climate change. Accounting for microclimate dynamics induced by changes in shrub cover could thus significantly strengthen our ability to forecast future vegetation changes in alpine ecosystems, but empirical evidence is missing so far. By merging multidecadal observational data on the vegetation and microclimate of European mountaintops with mechanistic insights from a long-term field experiment, this project aims at advancing our understanding of the relationship between shrub cover changes, below-canopy microclimate dynamics and alpine plant community responses to macroclimate change. The results of this project will shed light on how threatened the unique alpine flora actually is in a warming world and whether mitigating conservation measures are required to secure its long-term survival.