, Volume 122, Issue 1, pp 45-56
Date: 03 Apr 2012

Profiteers of environmental change in the Swiss Alps: increase of thermophilous and generalist plants in wetland ecosystems within the last 10 years

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It has been predicted that Europe will experience a rise in temperature of 2.2–5.3 °C within this century. This increase in temperature may lead to vegetation change along altitudinal gradients. To test whether vegetation composition has already changed in the recent decade due to current warming (and other concomitant environmental changes), we recorded plant species composition in 1995 and 2005/2006 in Swiss pre-alpine fen meadows (800–1,400 m a.s.l.). Despite no obvious changes in the management of these fens, overall, plant species richness (cumulative number of plant species at five plots per site) significantly increased over this period. This was mainly due to an increase in the number of thermophilous, rich-soil-indicator and shade-indicator species, which corresponded to increased community productivity and shading within the vegetation layer. In contrast, fen specialists significantly declined in species numbers. The strongest species shifts occurred at the lowest sites, which overall had a higher colonization rate by new species than did sites at higher altitudes. Vegetation change along the altitudinal gradient was also affected by different types of land management: early-flowering species and species with low habitat specificity had high colonization rates in grazed fens, especially at low altitudes.