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Alpine Flora Dynamics in a Warming World

Reference
Kullman, L. 2010a. Alpine flora dynamics -- a critical review of responses to climate change in the Swedish Scandes since the early 1950s. Nordic Journal of Botany 28: 398-408.
Many are the people who claim that earth's temperature will rise so high and so fast in response to CO2-induced global warming that many species of alpine plants will soon be mere memories, because of the assumption that after being forced to migrate to the tops of the mountains upon which they now reside at lower levels, there will be nowhere else for them to go in a vertical direction but to the sorry state of extinction, reiterating the claim of NASA's James Hansen, who in testimony given to the Select Committee of Energy Independence and Global Warming of the United States House of Representatives, declared -- in no uncertain terms -- that life in earth's alpine regions is in danger of being "pushed off the planet" as the earth warms, since it has "no place else to go."

But is this really so?

Noting that many people truly believe that continued global warming "is likely to bring about severe vegetation disruption, biodiversity decline and species extinction in the world's alpine regions," Kullman (2010a) reports in the Nordic Journal of Botany the results he obtained from recent species inventories he conducted on the uppermost 20 meters of four high-mountain summits in the Swedish Scandes (Kullman 2007b,c), the results of which he compared with the findings of "historical species inventories from the early 1950s, executed by a highly competent and experienced botanist (Kilander, 1955)," which endeavor, in his words, "can be seen as an evaluation of a full-scale 'natural experiment' (cf. Grabherr et al., 2001)," following the same philosophy as that adopted by Idso (1998), who discerned several ongoing real-world "natural experiments" he could use to empirically evaluate earth's temperature response to concomitant increases in the air's CO2 content.

So what did Kullman learn?

The researcher, who is associated with the Department of Ecology and Environmental Science of Sweden's Umed University, writes that the species pools at the tops of the studied mountains have (1) "increased by 60-170% since the 1950s," that (2) "some of the invading species are new to the alpine tundra, with more silvine and thermophilic properties than the extant alpine flora," and -- last of all, but most importantly -- that (3) "not a single species of the original flora has disappeared from any of the summits."

In concluding, Kullman writes that "the alpine flora appears to be more adaptive and responsive to climate change than generally believed," and that "overall, a richer, greener and more productive alpine world has emerged in the wake of the recent climate warming episode (Kullman, 2010b, 2010c)."

Additional References
Grabherr, G., Gottfried, M. and Pauli, H. 2001. Long-term monitoring of mountain peaks in the Alps. In: Burga, C.A. and Kratochwil, A. (Eds.), Biomonitoring: General and Applied Aspects on Regional and Global Scales. Tasks for Vegetation Science. Kluwer, Dordrecht, Germany, pp. 153-177.

Idso, S.B. 1998. Carbon-dioxide-induced global warming: A skeptic's view of potential climate change. Climate Research 10: 69-82.

Kilander, S. 1955. Karlvaxternas ovre granser pa fjall i sydvastra Jamtland samt angransande delar av Harjedalen och Norge. Acta Phytogeogr. Suec. 35: 1-198.

Kullman, L. 2007a. Long-term geobotanical observations of climate change impacts in the Scandes of west-central Sweden. Nordic Journal of Botany 24: 445-467.

Kullman, L. 2007b. Modern climate change and shifting ecological states of the subalpine/alpine landscape in the Swedish Scandes. Geo-Oko 28: 187-221.

Kullman, L. 2010b. One century of treeline change and stability -- experiences from the Swedish Scandes. Landscape Online 17: 1-31.

Kullman, L. 2010c. A richer, greener and smaller alpine world -- review and projection of warming-induced plant cover change in the Swedish Scandes. Ambio 39: 159-169.

Archived 15 March 2011