Globally accelerating trends in societal development and human environmental impacts since the mid-twentieth century1,2,3,4,5,6,7 are known as the Great Acceleration and have been discussed as a key indicator of the onset of the Anthropocene epoch6. While reports on ecological responses (for example, changes in species range or local extinctions) to the Great Acceleration are multiplying8, 9, it is unknown whether such biotic responses are undergoing a similar acceleration over time. This knowledge gap stems from the limited availability of time series data on biodiversity changes across large temporal and geographical extents. Here we use a dataset of repeated plant surveys from 302 mountain summits across Europe, spanning 145 years of observation, to assess the temporal trajectory of mountain biodiversity changes as a globally coherent imprint of the Anthropocene. We find a continent-wide acceleration in the rate of increase in plant species richness, with five times as much species enrichment between 2007 and 2016 as fifty years ago, between 1957 and 1966. This acceleration is strikingly synchronized with accelerated global warming and is not linked to alternative global change drivers. The accelerating increases in species richness on mountain summits across this broad spatial extent demonstrate that acceleration in climate-induced biotic change is occurring even in remote places on Earth, with potentially far-ranging consequences not only for biodiversity, but also for ecosystem functioning and services.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.83 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Smith, S. J., Edmonds, J., Hartin, C. A., Mundra, A. & Calvin, K. Near-term acceleration in the rate of temperature change. Nat. Clim. Chang 5, 333–336 (2015).
Comiso, J. C., Parkinson, C. L., Gersten, R. & Stock, L. Accelerated decline in the Arctic sea ice cover. Geophys. Res. Lett 35, L01703 (2008).
Kintisch, E. Sea ice retreat said to accelerate Greenland melting. Science 352, 1377 (2016).
Hughes, T. P. et al. Global warming and recurrent mass bleaching of corals. Nature 543, 373–377 (2017).
Hollesen, J., Matthiesen, H., Møller, A. B. & Elberling, B. Permafrost thawing in organic Arctic soils accelerated by ground heat production. Nat. Clim. Chang 5, 574–578 (2015).
Steffen, W., Broadgate, W., Deutsch, L., Gaffney, O. & Ludwig, C. The trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration. Anthropocene Rev 2, 81–98 (2015).
Alstad, A. O. et al. The pace of plant community change is accelerating in remnant prairies. Sci. Adv 2, e1500975 (2016).
Chen, I. C., Hill, J. K., Ohlemüller, R., Roy, D. B. & Thomas, C. D. Rapid range shifts of species associated with high levels of climate warming. Science 333, 1024–1026 (2011).
Wiens, J. J. Climate-related local extinctions are already widespread among plant and animal species. PLoS Biol 14, e2001104 (2016).
Gobiet, A. et al. 21st century climate change in the European Alps—a review. Sci. Total Environ 493, 1138–1151 (2014).
Mountain Research Initiative EDW Working Group Elevation-dependent warming in mountain regions of the world. Nat. Clim. Chang. 5, 424–430 (2015).
Lenoir, J., Gégout, J.-C., Marquet, P. A., de Ruffray, P. & Brisse, H. A significant upward shift in plant species optimum elevation during the 20th century. Science 320, 1768–1771 (2008).
Pauli, H. et al. Recent plant diversity changes on Europe’s mountain summits. Science 336, 353–355 (2012).
Grytnes, J.-A. et al. Identifying driving factors behind observed species range shifts on European mountains. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr 23, 876–884 (2014).
Gottfried, M. et al. Continent-wide response of mountain vegetation to climate change. Nat. Clim. Chang 2, 111–115 (2012).
Wipf, S., Stöckli, V., Herz, K. & Rixen, C. The oldest monitoring site of the Alps revisited: Accelerated increase in plant species richness on Piz Linard summit since 1835. Plant Ecol. Divers 6, 447–455 (2013).
Bertrand, R. et al. Changes in plant community composition lag behind climate warming in lowland forests. Nature 479, 517–520 (2011).
Stöckli, V., Wipf, S., Nilsson, C. & Rixen, C. Using historical plant surveys to track biodiversity on mountain summits. Plant Ecol. Divers 4, 415–425 (2012).
Verheyen, K. et al. Combining biodiversity resurveys across regions to advance global change research. Bioscience 67, 73–83 (2017).
Odland, A., Høitomt, T. & Olsen, S. L. Increasing vascular plant richness on 13 high mountain summits in Southern Norway since the early 1970s. Arct. Antarct. Alp. Res 42, 458–470 (2010).
Walther, G.-R., Beißner, S. & Burga, C. A. Trends in the upward shift of alpine plants. J. Veg. Sci 16, 541–548 (2005).
Speed, J. D. M., Austrheim, G., Hester, A. J. & Mysterud, A. Elevational advance of alpine plant communities is buffered by herbivory. J. Veg. Sci 23, 617–625 (2012).
Dullinger, S. et al. Extinction debt of high-mountain plants under twenty-first-century climate change. Nat. Clim. Chang 2, 619–622 (2012).
Hülber, K. et al. Uncertainty in predicting range dynamics of endemic alpine plants under climate warming. Glob. Change Biol 22, 2608–2619 (2016).
Vetaas, O. R. Realized and potential climate niches: a comparison of four Rhododendron tree species. J. Biogeogr 29, 545–554 (2002).
Alexander, J. M., Diez, J. M. & Levine, J. M. Novel competitors shape species’ responses to climate change. Nature 525, 515–518 (2015).
Cotto, O. et al. A dynamic eco-evolutionary model predicts slow response of alpine plants to climate warming. Nat. Commun 8, 15399 (2017).
Kulonen, A., Imboden, R. A., Rixen, C., Maier, S. B. & Wipf, S. Enough space in a warmer world? Microhabitat diversity and small-scale distribution of alpine plants on mountain summits. Divers. Distrib 24, 252–261 (2018).
Winkler, M. et al. The rich sides of mountain summits — a pan-European view on aspect preferences of alpine plants. J. Biogeogr 43, 2261–2273 (2016).
Pecl, G. T. et al. Biodiversity redistribution under climate change: Impacts on ecosystems and human well-being. Science 355, eaai9214 (2017).
Zemanek, A. Bogumił Pawłowski (1898–1971) — z˙ ycie i dzieło. Fragm. Florist. Geobot. Polon 19, 205–244 (2012).
Ellenberg, H. J. Braun-Blanquet 3.8.1884–22.9.1980 R. Tüxen 21.5.1899–16.5.1980–Jahre Pflanzensozilogie. Ber. Deutsch. Bot. Ges 95, 387–391 (1982).
Unknown. Tschechoslowakei 1928. Mohelno. Prof. Rübel im Jihlavka-Tale. ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv (1928).
Braun, J. Die Vegetationsverhältnisse der Schneestufe in den Rätisch-Lepontischen Alpen. Ein Bild des Pflanzenlebens an seinen äußersten Grenzen. Neue Denkschr. Schweiz. Naturf. Ges 48, 1–347 (1913).
Burg, S., Rixen, C., Stöckli, V. & Wipf, S. Observation bias and its causes in botanical surveys on high-alpine summits. J. Veg. Sci 26, 191–200 (2015).
Anandhi, A. et al. Examination of change factor methodologies or climate impact assessment. Wat. Resour. Res 47, W03501 (2011).
Harris, I., Jones, P. D., Osborn, T. J. & Lister, D. H. Updated high-resolution grids of monthly climatic observations - the CRU TS3.10 Dataset. Int. J. Climatol 34, 623–642 (2014).
Casty, C., Raible, C. C., Stocker, T. F., Wanner, H. & Luterbacher, J. European Gridded Monthly Temperature, Precipitation and 500hPa Reconstructions; IGBP PAGES/World Data Center for Paleoclimatology Data Contribution Series # 2008-023 (NOAA/NCDC Paleoclimatology Program, Boulder, 2008).
Daly, C., Neilson, R. P. & Phillips, D. L. A statistical topographic model for mapping climatological precipitation over mountainous terrain. J. Appl. Meteorol. 33, 140–158 (1994).
Huijnen, V. et al. The global chemistry transport model TM5: description and evaluation of the tropospheric chemistry version 3.0. Geosci. Model Dev 3, 445–473 (2010).
R Core Team R: A language and environment for statistical computing (R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, 2016).
Bates, D., Maechler, M., Bolker, B. & Walker, S. Fitting linear mixed-effects models using lme4. J. Stat. Softw 67, 1–48 (2015).
Harrison, X. A. Using observation-level random effects to model overdispersion in count data in ecology and evolution. PeerJ 2, e616 (2014).
Burnham, K. P. & Anderson, D. R. Model Selection and Multimodel Inference: A Practical Information-Theoretic Approach 2nd edn (Springer, New York, 2002).
Burns, D. A. The effects of atmospheric nitrogen deposition in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and southern Wyoming, USA—a critical review. Environ. Pollut. 127, 257–269 (2004).
Körner, C. Mountain ecosystems in a changing environment. Ecomont 6, 71–77 (2014).
Bobbink, R. et al. Global assessment of nitrogen deposition effects on terrestrial plant diversity: a synthesis. Ecol. Appl. 20, 30–59 (2010).
Kleyer, M. et al. The LEDA Traitbase: A database of life-history traits of Northwest European flora. J. Ecol 96, 1266–1274 (2008).
Landolt, E. et al. Flora Indicativa (Haupt, Bern, 2010).
We thank D. Barolin, J. Birks, A. Björken, C. Björken, S. Dahle, U. Deppe, G. Dussassois, J. V. Ferrández, T. Gassner, S. Giovanettina, F. Giuntoli, Ø. Lunde Heggebø, K. Herz, A. Jost, K. Kallnik, W. Kapfer, T. Kronstad, H. Laukeland, S. Nießner, M. Olson, P. Roux-Fouillet, K. Schofield, M. Suen, D. Watson, J. Wells Abbott, J. Zaremba and numerous additional helpers for fieldwork support; P. Barancˇ ok, J. L. Benito Alonso, M. Camenisch, G. Coldea, J. Dick, M. Gottfried, G. Grabherr, J. I. Holten, J. Kollár, P. Larsson, M. Mallaun, O. Michelsen, U. Molau, M. Pus¸ cas¸ , T. Scheurer, P. Unterluggauer, L. Villar, G.-R. Walther, and numerous helpers for data originating from the GLORIA network13; C. Jenks for linguistic support; and the following institutions for funding. M.J.S.: Danish Carlsbergfondet (CF14-0148), EU Marie Sklodowska-Curie action (grant 707491). C.R., V.S., S.W.: Velux Foundation, Switzerland. C.R., V.S., S.W., J.-P.T., P.V.: Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). A.K.: Swiss National Science Foundation (31003A_144011 to C.R.), Basler Stiftung für biologische Forschung, Switzerland. J.K.: Fram Centre, Norway (362202). J.K., J.-A.G., P.C., B.J.: Polish-Norwegian Research Programme of the Norwegian National Centre for Research and Development (Pol-Nor/196829/87/2013). O.F.-A., M.J.H., S.P.: Instituto de Estudios Altoaragoneses (Huesca, Spain). S.D.: Austrian Climate Research Programme (ACRP, project 368575: DISEQU-ALP). F.J.: Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland; Alpine Garden Society, UK. M.J.H.: Felix de Azara research grant (IBERSUMIT project, DPH, Spain). R.K.: Slovak Research and Development Agency (APVV 0866-12). S.N., D.G.: VILLUM Foundation’s Young Investigator Programme (VKR023456; Denmark). S.P.: Ramón y Cajal fellowship (RYC-2013-14164, Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad, Spain). J.-C.S.: European Research Council (ERC-2012-StG-310886-HISTFUNC); VILLUM Investigator project (VILLUM FONDEN grant 16549; Denmark). S.W.: WSL internal grant (201307N0678, Switzerland); EU FP7 Interact Transnational Access (AlpFlor Europe). S.W., S.B., F.J., M.J.H.: Swiss Botanical Society Alpine Flower Fund. Time and effort was supported by sDiv, the Synthesis Centre of iDiv, Germany (DFG FZT 118, sUMMITDiv working group).
Nature thanks J. Alexander, A. Hester and K. Verheyen for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Extended data figures and tables
This conceptual figure shows the approach implemented in the main text to visualize richness change over time based on the raw data (Figs. 2, 3). a, The mean richness change per year (ΔSR/∆t = (SRt2 − SRt1)/(t2 − t1)) across all summits was calculated (Fig. 3). b, The mean richness change per year accumulates with time to yield absolute changes in species richness (black line in Fig. 2). c, d, Variability in the absolute change in species richness was visualized by randomly sampling ΔSR from all mountains available each year, but adding the s.d. within a region and year. The displayed range in Fig. 2 illustrates the 5th and 95th percentiles of the resulting richness change values from 1,000 runs (orange shading in Fig. 2). This approach reveals changes in variability among mountains over time while also showing overall variability for time steps where only a few summits were sampled (particularly in early time periods).
Extended Data Fig. 2 Relationship between rates of changes in species richness across Europe and rates of increase in temperature (left column), rates of change in precipitation (middle column) and accumulated nitrogen deposition (right column).
Trend lines are interpolated from a simple linear model and are in many cases not significant. Species richness was quantified as the difference between vegetation surveys from the same summit at different times (Extended Data Fig. 1). No nitrogen data were available for Svalbard. The number of observations (comparison of survey and resurveys) are: Svalbard, 7; Northern Scandes, 54; Southern Scandes, 27; Scotland, 7; NW Carpathians, 16; Eastern Alps, 122; Western Alps, 48; SE Carpathians, 9; Pyrenees, 12 (see Fig. 1 for more details).
Historical species richness was exceeded within a small sampling area during recent resurveys. Species richness of the historical survey (yellow) contrasted with a species richness accumulation curve of the recent surveys on summits where the highest occurrence of each recent species was estimated to the nearest 1-m elevation. The number of species found historically within the uppermost 10 m of a summit was exceeded within the uppermost 5 m in the most recent resurveys. This analysis includes all 157 European summits for which such data are available, regardless of whether the historical species number was reached in recent times. The blue circle visualizes average species richness of the recent surveys within the uppermost 10 m.
About this article
Cite this article
Steinbauer, M.J., Grytnes, J., Jurasinski, G. et al. Accelerated increase in plant species richness on mountain summits is linked to warming. Nature 556, 231–234 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0005-6
Immediate and carry‐over effects of insect outbreaks on vegetation growth in West Greenland assessed from cells to satellite
Journal of Biogeography (2020)
Tree species of tropical and temperate lineages in a tropical Asian montane forest show different range dynamics in response to climate change
Global Ecology and Conservation (2020)
Greater effect of warming on community composition with increased precipitation and in moister landscape location
Journal of Vegetation Science (2020)
Disentangling observer error and climate change effects in long‐term monitoring of alpine plant species composition and cover
Journal of Vegetation Science (2020)
Habitat Islands on the Aegean Islands (Greece): Elevational Gradient of Chasmophytic Diversity, Endemism, Phytogeographical Patterns and need for Monitoring and Conservation