Plant-rich mountain peaks linked to climate overheating

A newly published study in Nature confirms that our mountain peaks get greener. The acceleration with which plants occupy new territory links to the rising temperatures. While some species cannot cope well with rising temperatures, others seem to flourish. The climate overheating allows certain plants to expand their range to higher altitudes.

Please also read: Weather extremes versus climate overheating

Plant diversity quintupled

The study based its conclusions on research and data from the last 145 years. The datasets showed the plant diversity on more than 300 mountain peaks in Europe. It appears that the rate at which new plants settle at mountain peaks became much higher recently. Between 2007 and 2016, the rate was 5 times higher compared to the 50 previous years. Although local studies already indicated higher rates, this number surprised the scientists.

The study found a correlation between the speed at which new species settle and at which mountain peaks get warmer. Other factors like grazing or tourism pressure did not yield a significant correlation.

More plant diversity better?

Normally, people like to say that a place with higher biodiversity is better. So, if mountain peaks get more plant diversity, should we worry? The problem lies in the available space. If plants move up because temperature allows them, the bottom range also elevates. The higher a range grows, the less space a species gets on a mountain. At its highest point, there is almost no available space. Competition with other species will be very high, and as a result we will start to loose certain species.

You can read the study: ‘Accelerated increase in plant species richness on mountain summits is linked to warming’ from Steinbauer et al., (2018) here.

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