Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Observation alone will change nothing

18.12.2012
Consequences of abandoning Alpine meadows
Agriculture is increasingly vanishing from the Alps. Land that was cultivated for centuries is now being abandoned and scrubs are encroaching on it. This affects not only the landscape, but also the water balance and will in future also have an impact on power generation. These are the conclusions reached by an interdisciplinary research group supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

The Ursern Valley near Andermatt is in many ways a typical high mountain valley in the Alps. The first inhabitants arrived here around 800 years ago and turned patches of forest into open cultivated land where goats, sheep or cows were able to graze. The sustainable alpine farming that followed for hundreds of years is now on the decline. Sixty years ago there were still over 100 farms in the Ursern Valley; now there are only 30 left. Many of the less accessible pastures on the mountain slopes were abandoned and are now densely covered by alder shrubs.

Phenomenal expansion of green alders
In a large-scale Sinergia research project, plant ecologists, soil experts, hydrologists and economists coordinated by Erika Hiltbrunner and led by Christian Körner from the University of Basel have examined the consequences of farms being abandoned in the higher reaches of the Alpine range (*). In the Ursern Valley, it is mainly the green alder that is spreading like wildfire, 2.5 times as fast as the forest in the Swiss Alpine region. The area covered by the green alders has increased by one-fourth in the last ten years alone. This shrub, which is normally found in stream beds and avalanche paths, has now come to dominate the north-facing slopes. If this continues, the green alder will completely cover its potential habitat in the Ursern Valley by 2045.

In addition, the green alder is a plant that enters into a symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria in its roots. "The green alder is a nitrogen pump and over-fertilises the area that it covers," says Körner. Where it grows, the biodiversity of plant life decreases. Young conifers are not able to break through the dense undergrowth. "Without human intervention, the forest cannot make a rapid comeback," Körner explains.

A million francs lost
The spread of the green alder affects the quality of water because the shrub contaminates the water with nitrates. It also has an impact on water balance: surfaces covered by green alders or long, ungrazed grass release between ten and twenty percent more moisture into the air than grassland on which animals graze.
The amount of evaporated water cannot be gauged from the discharge of the Reuss River as the precipitation in the form of rain or snow over a given area cannot be measured accurately in the mountains. However, the steadily decreasing summer discharge during the past 40 years corresponds to the increasing rate of evapotranspiration. An extrapolation of the volume of evaporated water for the entire Ursern Valley suggests that power plants will in future lose between six and eleven gigawatt hours of energy corresponding to half a million and one million Swiss francs per year, depending on the weather.

Landscape preservation with Engadine sheep
"Green alder is invasive. The tactic of simply watching it spread has many downsides and is the worst option we can choose," Körner says. In their project, the researchers have tested another – more promising – option: they have led some Engadine sheep up on the affected pastures. "These sheep peel the bark off the green alders and the damaged shrubs subsequently die off because the transportation of sugar from the leaves to the root is blocked or because the root is killed off by parasitic fungi," Körner explains. More sheep of this old, robust breed would be an effective and simple measure to counteract the undesired scrub encroachment in the Alps. However, the economic analysis conducted by the researchers suggests that the added financial value of sustainable land use is not sufficient to keep the arable land open.

(*) Christian Körner, Erika Hiltbrunner, Christine Alewell, Rolf Weingartner, Frank Krysiak, (associated: Martin Schaffner). VALUrsern Final Report. (2012).
(available as a PDF document from the SNF; e-mail: com@snf.ch)

Sinergia
The Sinergia funding scheme of the SNSF supports small networks formed through the initiative and cooperation of research groups. It is a platform for interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and unidisciplinary projects that allows researchers to develop synergetic approaches to complex scientific questions and advance into promising new research fields.

Contact
Prof. Christian Körner
Botanisches Institut
Universität Basel
Schönbeinstrasse 6
CH-4056 Basel
Tel.: +41 (0)61 267 35 09
E-mail: ch.koerner@unibas.ch

Communication division | idw
Further information:
http://www.snsf.ch/

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Map of the Cell’s Power Station

18.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form

18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet

18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>