Study reveals that climate change could dramatically alter fragile mountain habitats

Mountain regions of the world are under direct threat from human-induced climate change which could radically alter these fragile habitats, warn an international team of researchers – including an expert from The University of Manchester.

Manchester ecologist Professor Richard Bardgett, who was part of the international team that initiated and designed the study, said: ”A clear message from our findings is that climate warming could change the functional properties of mountain ecosystems and potentially create a disequilibrium, or mismatch, between plants and soils in high mountain areas.

“Not only could this have far reaching consequences for biogeochemical cycles but it could also affect mountain biodiversity.”

The international study, which spanned seven major mountain regions of the world, revealed that decreasing elevation – descending a mountainside to warmer levels – provided a ‘surrogate’ indicator of climate warming and consistently increased the availability of nitrogen from the soil for plant growth, meaning that future climate warming could disrupt the way that fragile mountain ecosystems function.

The researchers also found that plant phosphorus availability was not controlled by elevation in the same way – and as a result, the balance of nitrogen to phosphorus availability in plant leaves was very similar across the seven regions at high elevations, but diverged greatly across the regions at lower elevation. This means that as temperatures become warmer with climate change, the crucial balance between these nutrients that sustain plant growth could be radically altered in higher mountain areas.

They also found that increasing temperature and its consequences for plant nutrition were linked to other changes in the soil, including amounts of organic matter and the make-up of the soil microbial community. These changes were partly independent of any effect of the alpine tree line, meaning that effects of warming on ecosystem properties will occur irrespective of whatever shifts occur in the migration of trees up-slope due to higher temperatures.

Read more of this alarming article here.


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