Mountains have been posited as a last refuge for species escaping the impacts of a warming climate, but they will have their own casualties, shows a study.
Climate change could wipe out much of the suitable habitat for Europe's mountain flora in coming decades, but some regions are likely to suffer more loss than others.
Using botanical survey data, Robin Engler at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and colleagues inferred the temperature and moisture requirements for more than 2,600 species of European mountain-dwelling plants1. The researchers then used a regional climate model to estimate how those species would fare in scenarios where average temperatures over western and central Europe between 2070 and 2100 range from 3.0 to 5.6 °C higher than those tallied between 1961 and 1990.
Depending on the climate scenario, between 36 and 55 per cent of alpine species could lose at least 80 per cent of their suitable habitat, found the authors. But not all areas will be equally afflicted: mountain locales predicted to become warmer and drier, such as the eastern Austrian Alps and the Spanish Pyrenees, will probably suffer heavier losses than areas where conditions become warmer and wetter, such as the Scottish Highlands.
Engler, R. et al. 21st century climate change threatens mountain flora unequally across Europe. Global Change Biol. 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2010.02393.x (2010).
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Perkins, S. Mountain plants in peril. Nature Clim Change (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1035