A Better Understanding of the Ecological Conditions for Leontopodium alpinum Cassini in the Swiss Alps
Although Leontopodium alpinum is considered to be threatened in many countries, only limited scientific information about its autecology is available. In this study, we aim to define the most important ecological factors which influence the distribution of L. alpinum in the Swiss Alps. These were assessed at the national scale using species distribution models based on topoclimatic predictors and at the community scale using exhaustive plant inventories. The latter were analysed using hierarchical clustering and principal component analysis, and the results were interpreted using ecological indicator values. Leontopodium alpinum was found almost exclusively on base-rich bedrocks (limestone and ultramafic rocks). The species distribution models showed that available moisture (dry regions, mostly in the Inner Alps), elevation (mostly above 2,000 m a.s.l.) and slope (mostly >30°) were the most important predictors. The relevés showed that L. alpinum is present in a wide range of plant communities, all subalpine-alpine open grasslands, with a low grass cover. As a light-demanding and short species, L. alpinum requires light at ground level; hence, it can only grow in open, nutrient-poor grasslands. These conditions are met in dry conditions (dry, summer-warm climate, rocky and draining soil, south-facing aspect and/or steep slope), at high elevations, on oligotrophic soils and/or on windy ridges. Base-rich soils appear to also be essential, although it is still unclear whether this corresponds to physiological or ecological (lower competition) requirements.