Alpine plants are threatened by the increasing heat of the climate

Like many mountainous regions, the European Alps are heating up quickly. Alpine plants will suffer – and life underground too.

By Kieran Cooke

The early snowmelt in the Alps is not only bad news for avid skiers and for those who depend on the money they earn during the winter sports season: Alpine plants are also in danger.

Rising temperatures due to climate change also negatively impact deep below the ground surface.

New research from scientists at the University of Manchester in the UK shows that a warming region threatens microbes that live in Alpine soils.

Microbes play a vital role in supporting above-ground life forms, recycling key nutrients on which animals, plants and humans depend.

More extreme advances in the snowmelt calendar are planned for the turn of the century

Microbes also control the amount of carbon stored in the soil: if the cycle of microbial activity is disrupted, then more carbon is released into the atmosphere, causing further global warming.

Arthur broadbent, main author of a research paper in the ISME review, says climate change is having an alarming impact on microbial communities in alpine soils.

“Using a high mountain experience in the Austrian Alps, we found that spring snowmelt triggers a sharp seasonal transition in soil microbial communities, which is closely linked to rapid changes in the carbon cycle and nitrogen, ”he said.

During winter, alpine soil microbes depend on snow to act as an insulating blanket, allowing them to continue working through the cold months.

Himalayan disaster

Researchers say climate change in the Alps is occurring at double the rate of the global average. Separate research indicates that profound changes are occurring in the Alps and in many other mountainous regions of the world.

In February, a flash flood in Uttarakhand, northern India killed nearly 70 people, with 136 others missing and now presumed dead. Most scientists believe that global warming was the cause of the melting glaciers that triggered the disaster.

There are predictions that over the next 80 years more than 90% of glacier ice in the Alpine region will be lost due to the ever higher temperatures.

“Snowmelt is expected to occur 50 to 130 days earlier in alpine regions due to climate change by the turn of the century,” says Dr Broadbent.

Increased warming

“Using experimental manipulations, we have demonstrated that earlier snowmelt, even by just 10 days, results in an earlier seasonal transition in microbial communities and the biogeochemical cycle. “

The research paper states that changes in the microbial cycle caused by snowmelt will result in decreased carbon retention in the soil and thus negatively impact plant growth and productivity.

“This would negatively affect agricultural production and disrupt natural ecosystems. It will also alter the annual carbon fluxes in these ecosystems with the potential to cause further global warming. “

The authors conclude with a clear warning: “More extreme advances in the timing of snowmelt are planned for the end of the century.” – Climate information network

This post was previously published on and licensed under the Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0 license.


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Photo credit: Karsten Würth at Unsplash

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