Climatic Change

, Volume 123, Issue 2, pp 201–214

Ecological responses of plant species and communities to climate warming: upward shift or range filling processes?


    • Department of Theoretical and Applied SciencesInsubria University
  • Sandro Pignatti
    • Department of Environmental BiologyUniversity Roma “La Sapienza”

DOI: 10.1007/s10584-014-1065-8

Cite this article as:
Cannone, N. & Pignatti, S. Climatic Change (2014) 123: 201. doi:10.1007/s10584-014-1065-8


The fate of alpine species in response to climate warming is still unclear. We analyze effects of climate warming on the composition of alpine plants communities and unravel the range filling of communities within a belt from long-term true upward shift processes. In the European Alps we re-sampled in 2003 the vegetation at sites studied in 1953 and analyzed the changes at intra- and inter-community level. Since 1953 all communities experienced a high species turnover, leading to an overall increase in species richness as new species exceeded species losses. The dominant species mainly declined allowing the potential expansion of competitors and/or of new species. The main recruitment sources are neighbor communities within the same elevation belt performing biotic exchanges with other plant communities in the same altitudinal belts. The changes of species distribution curves with elevation emphasized that more than half of the most widespread persisting species exhibited downward shifts instead of upward shifts. Upward shifts from lower elevation belts and of nonnative species were very limited. One third of the persisting species declined and could be used as a proxy to measure the extinction debt. Therefore the fate of plant communities will depend on the ability of the original species to persist and fill the available ecological gaps. Species persistence may be crucial in developing adaptation and environmental protection strategies.

Supplementary material

10584_2014_1065_MOESM1_ESM.docx (21 kb)
Fig. 1 Comparison of medians, quartiles and ranges of the Bray Curtis Distances between all iterative combinations of a) original to replicate plots (Or-Repl) and b) replicate plots (Between-Repl) for all selected vegetation communities, according to the procedure adopted by Ross et al. (2010). (DOCX 20 kb)
10584_2014_1065_MOESM2_ESM.docx (547 kb)
Fig. 2 Multivariate analysis (DCA) carried out at inter-community level analyzing the fully comparable relevés (1953 vs 2003) showing the species plot (left side) and the relevés plot (right side). Legend: OD: Pioneer community (n = 8); LA: early successional community (n = 10); SH: late melting snowbed (n = 28); AP: early melting snowbed (n = 24); CC: alpine grasslands (n = 18); LP: alpine dwarf shrubs (n = 12). (DOCX 546 kb)
10584_2014_1065_MOESM3_ESM.docx (255 kb)
Fig. 3 Biplot (species and sites) of the multivariate analysis (DCA) carried out analyzing the fully comparable relevés (1953 vs 2003) of pioneer (n = 4 for each year) and the early successional (n = 5 for each year) vegetation. Legend: square = pioneer vegetation; circle = early successional vegetation; white = 1953 data; grey = 2003 data. (DOCX 255 kb)
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Fig. 4 Biplot (species and sites) of the multivariate analysis (DCA) carried out analyzing the fully comparable relevés (1953 vs 2003) of snowbeds (n = 26 for each year). Legend: white = 1953 data; grey = 2003 data. (DOCX 247 kb)
10584_2014_1065_MOESM5_ESM.docx (438 kb)
Fig. 5 Biplot (species and sites) of the multivariate analysis (DCA) carried out analyzing the fully comparable relevés (1953 vs 2003) of grasslands (n = 9 for each year) and alpine dwarf shrubs (n = 6 for each year). Legend: circles = grasslands; squares = alpine dwarf shrubs; white = 1953 data; grey = 2003 data. (DOCX 437 kb)
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Table 1 (DOCX 14 kb)
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Table 2 (DOCX 15 kb)
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Table 3 (DOCX 15 kb)
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Table 4 (DOCX 21 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014