How do alpine plants react to warmer climatic conditions? Due to their longevity, the plants may survive longer than expected in their habitats, but produce offspring that are increasingly maladapted. Population size may decrease faster than the contraction of the species range, as UZH researchers show using computer models. Scientists who wish to track the precise extinction risk of plant species must not only measure their dispersal, but also the densities of the local populations.
For alpine plant species, climate change presents a special challenge: To escape increased greenhouse warming, the species have to move to a higher-altitude habitat. Due to the pyramidal structure of mountains, however, little surface area is available for this endeavor. To estimate the extinction risk of these plants, scientists have previously resorted to static models that insufficiently mapped the dynamic responses of flora to climate change.
More reliable predictions
Now, the team of Frédéric Guillaume of the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Sciences of the University of Zurich, in cooperation with research groups from Grenoble and Vienna, has developed a new model that takes eco-evolutionary mechanisms into consideration, therefore permitting more reliable predictions. The researchers have applied their model to four alpine plant species and used supercomputers to simulate the dispersal and adaptation of these species under three possible climate scenarios up to the year 2090.
The more favorable climate scenarios that assume a warming by one degree show that the plant populations recover again if the warming slows after 2090. “If climate change continues to develop without restraint, however,” Guillaume says,” the plants will have a big problem.” A problem that may remain undetectable under superficial observation and become obvious only when examining the situation more deeply.
Persisting in unfavorable habitats
This problem arises because the longevity of these alpine plants favors a persistence in the habitats they currently occupy. At the same time, however, fewer and fewer young plants are gaining a foothold. According to an article recently published by the researchers, “longevity prevents a renewal of the populations.” As a result, the populations are noticeably maladapted to their changing environment – and they are starting to thin out. “The population numbers of these plants are dropping faster than the plants can adapt to the new conditions or spread to more favorable grounds,” Frédéric Guillaume says.
Extinction debt increasing
As a whole, the simulations performed have demonstrated that the adaptability of the plants cannot keep up with the fast climate changes. The circumstance that older individuals persist in a worsening environment, hides the fact that an extinction debt is slowly developing. The researchers have therefore concluded that not only the dispersal of the alpine plant species, but also the local population densities, must be correctly measured in order to determine this invisible extinction debt.
Olivier Cotto, Johannes Wessely, Damien Georges, Günther Klonner, Max Schmid, Stefan Dullinger, Wilfried Thuiller, and Frédéric Guillaume. A dynamic eco-evolutionary model predicts slow response of alpine plants to climate warming. Nature Communications, May 5, 2017. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15399
Prof. Frédéric Guillaume
Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Sciences
University of Zurich
Phone +41 44 635 66 23
Nathalie Huber | Universität Zürich
Molecular evolution: How the building blocks of life may form in space
26.04.2018 | American Institute of Physics
Multifunctional bacterial microswimmer able to deliver cargo and destroy itself
26.04.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Intelligente Systeme
Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a widely used medical tool for taking pictures of the insides of our body. One way to make MRI scans easier to read is...
At the Hannover Messe 2018, the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM) will show how, in the future, astronauts could produce their own tools or spare parts in zero gravity using 3D printing. This will reduce, weight and transport costs for space missions. Visitors can experience the innovative additive manufacturing process live at the fair.
Powder-based additive manufacturing in zero gravity is the name of the project in which a component is produced by applying metallic powder layers and then...
Physicists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics, which is jointly run by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, have developed a high-power laser system that generates ultrashort pulses of light covering a large share of the mid-infrared spectrum. The researchers envisage a wide range of applications for the technology – in the early diagnosis of cancer, for instance.
Molecules are the building blocks of life. Like all other organisms, we are made of them. They control our biorhythm, and they can also reflect our state of...
University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.
Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.
Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
09.04.2018 | Event News
26.04.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
26.04.2018 | Life Sciences
26.04.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering