Alpine Botany

, Volume 123, Issue 2, pp 41–53 | Cite as

Working toward integrated models of alpine plant distribution

  • Bradley Z. Carlson
  • Christophe F. Randin
  • Isabelle Boulangeat
  • Sébastien Lavergne
  • Wilfried Thuiller
  • Philippe Choler


Species distribution models (SDMs) have been frequently employed to forecast the response of alpine plants to global changes. Efforts to model alpine plant distribution have thus far been primarily based on a correlative approach, in which ecological processes are implicitly addressed through a statistical relationship between observed species occurrences and environmental predictors. Recent evidence, however, highlights the shortcomings of correlative SDMs, especially in alpine landscapes where plant species tend to be decoupled from atmospheric conditions in micro-topographic habitats and are particularly exposed to geomorphic disturbances. While alpine plants respond to the same limiting factors as plants found at lower elevations, alpine environments impose a particular set of scale-dependent and hierarchical drivers that shape the realized niche of species and that require explicit consideration in a modelling context. Several recent studies in the European Alps have successfully integrated both correlative and process-based elements into distribution models of alpine plants, but for the time being a single integrative modelling framework that includes all key drivers remains elusive. As a first step in working toward a comprehensive integrated model applicable to alpine plant communities, we propose a conceptual framework that structures the primary mechanisms affecting alpine plant distributions. We group processes into four categories, including multi-scalar abiotic drivers, gradient dependent species interactions, dispersal and spatial–temporal plant responses to disturbance. Finally, we propose a methodological framework aimed at developing an integrated model to better predict alpine plant distribution.


Alpine plants Alpine-specific drivers Integrated approach Species distribution modelling 



The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Community’s Seven Framework Programme FP7/2007-2013 Grant Agreement No. 281422 (TEEMBIO) and from the ERA-NET CIRCLE (Mountain Group) (CAMELEON).


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Copyright information

© Swiss Botanical Society 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bradley Z. Carlson
    • 1
  • Christophe F. Randin
    • 2
  • Isabelle Boulangeat
    • 1
  • Sébastien Lavergne
    • 1
  • Wilfried Thuiller
    • 1
  • Philippe Choler
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Laboratoire d’Ecologie AlpineUMR CNRS-UJF 5553, Univ. Grenoble AlpesGrenobleFrance
  2. 2.Botanisches Institut der Universität BaselBaselSwitzerland
  3. 3.Station Alpine J. Fourier, UMS CNRS-UJF 3370, Univ. Grenoble AlpesGrenobleFrance

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