, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 655-669
Date: 20 Dec 2011

Vulnerability of mires under climate change: implications for nature conservation and climate change adaptation

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Wetlands in general and mires in particular belong to the most important terrestrial carbon stocks globally. Mires (i.e. bogs, transition bogs and fens) are assumed to be especially vulnerable to climate change because they depend on specific, namely cool and humid, climatic conditions. In this paper, we use distribution data of the nine mire types to be found in Austria and habitat distribution models for four IPCC scenarios to evaluate climate change induced risks for mire ecosystems within the 21st century. We found that climatic factors substantially contribute to explain the current distribution of all nine Austrian mire ecosystem types. Summer temperature proved to be the most important predictor for the majority of mire ecosystems. Precipitation—mostly spring and summer precipitation sums—was influential for some mire ecosystem types which depend partly or entirely on ground water supply (e.g. fens). We found severe climate change induced risks for all mire ecosystems, with rain-fed bog ecosystems being most threatened. Differences between scenarios are moderate for the mid-21st century, but become more pronounced towards the end of the 21st century, with near total loss of climate space projected for some ecosystem types (bogs, quagmires) under severe climate change. Our results imply that even under minimum expected, i.e. inevitable climate change, climatic risks for mires in Austria will be considerable. Nevertheless, the pronounced differences in projected habitat loss between moderate and severe climate change scenarios indicate that limiting future warming will likely contribute to enhance long-term survival of mire ecosystems, and to reduce future greenhouse gas emissions from decomposing peat. Effectively stopping and reversing the deterioration of mire ecosystems caused by conventional threats can be regarded as a contribution to climate change mitigation. Because hydrologically intact mires are more resilient to climatic changes, this would also maintain the nature conservation value of mires, and help to reduce the severe climatic risks to which most Austrian mire ecosystems may be exposed in the 2nd half of the 21st century according to IPCC scenarios.

Franz Essl and Ingrid Kleinbauer contributed equally to the work.