Skip to main content

Contrasting impacts of climate change on the vegetation of windy ridges and snowbeds in the Swiss Alps

Abstract

The impacts of climate change on alpine summit floras have been widely investigated. However, only few studies included alpine grasslands and generally concluded that snowbeds, with a long snow cover duration and a short growing season, and windy ridges, with a short snow cover duration and strong winter frosts, are the most sensitive alpine grasslands. However, these habitats were mostly investigated in different regions, where local factors (e.g. nitrogen deposition, grazing) can co-vary with climate changes, potentially obscuring differences between habitats. Here, we focused on the Zermatt region (Swiss Alps) to investigate the impacts of climate change on snowbeds and windy ridges. Forty-three exhaustive historical plant inventories on windy ridges (acidophilic or basophilic) and 31 inventories in snowbeds (typical or wet) were repeated in quasi-permanent plots after approximately 23 years. Historical and recent records were compared with the Simpson index, Bray–Curtis dissimilarity, a PCA, ecological indicator values and the frequency and cover changes of species. There was a general increase in α-diversity and a decrease in β-diversity (homogenisation). Most of the new species in the plots were generalists from surrounding grasslands. The plant composition tended to be more thermophilous on acidophilic windy ridges and in typical snowbeds. The flora of acidophilic windy ridges became more similar to that of basophilic windy ridges and more eutrophic. We interpreted this as possibly arising from fertilisation by the aeolian dust deposition coming from the expanding glacial moraine in the valley. In snowbeds, the species indicated increasingly drier conditions, especially in wet snowbeds. Warming climate induces lower snowfall and earlier snowmelt, leading to a shorter snow cover duration. Hence, wet snowbeds are certainly among the most threatened plant communities by climate change in the Alps.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7

References

  1. Armitage HF, Britton AJ, van der Wal R, Woodin SJ (2014) The relative importance of nitrogen deposition as a driver of Racomitrium heath species composition and richness across Europe. Biol Conserv 171:224–231. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2014.01.039

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Borcard D, Gillet F, Legendre P (2011) Numerical ecology with R. Springer, New York

    Book  Google Scholar 

  3. Braun-Blanquet J (1964) Pflanzensoziologie. Grundzüge der Vegetationskunde. Springer, Wien

    Google Scholar 

  4. Britton AJ, Beale CM, Towers W, Hewison RL (2009) Biodiversity gains and losses: evidence for homogenisation of Scottish alpine vegetation. Biol Conserv 142:1728–1739. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2009.03.010

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Carbognani M, Tomaselli M, Petraglia A (2014) Current vegetation changes in an alpine late snowbed community in the south-eastern Alps (N-Italy). Alpine Bot 124:105–113. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00035-014-0135-x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. CFHA (2005) Les polluants atmosphériques azotés en Suisse. Rapport de la Commission fédérale de l’hygiène de l’air (CFHA). OFEFP, Berne

    Google Scholar 

  7. CH2018 (2018) CH2018—climate scenarios for Switzerland, Technical Report. National Center for Climate Services, Zürich

    Google Scholar 

  8. Clerc P, Truong C (2012) Catalogue des lichens de Suisse. http://www.ville-ge.ch/musinfo/bd/cjb/cataloguelichen. Accessed 17 Apr 2019

  9. Dullinger S, Gattringer A, Thuiller W et al (2012) Climate warming, dispersal limitation and extinction debt of European mountain plants. Nat Clim Change 2:619–622

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Elumeeva TG, Onipchenko VG, Egorov AV, Khubiev AB, Tekeev DK, Soudzilovskaia NA, Cornelissen JHC (2013) Long-term vegetation dynamic in the Northwestern Caucasus: which communities are more affected by upward shifts of plant species? Alpine Bot 123:77–85. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00035-013-0122-7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Friedel H (1961) Schneedeckendauer und Vegetationsverteilung im Gelände. Mitt Forstl Bu Versuchsanstalt Wien 59:317–369

    Google Scholar 

  12. Gisladottir FO, Arnalds O, Gisladottir G (2005) The effect of landscape and retreating glaciers on wind erosion in south Iceland. Land Degrad Dev 16:177–187

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Gottfried M, Pauli H, Futschik A et al (2012) Continent wide response of mountain vegetation to climate change. Nat Clim Change 2:111–115

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Gritsch A, Dirnbock T, Dullinger S (2016) Recent changes in alpine vegetation differ among plant communities. J Veg Sci 27:1177–1186

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Güsewell S, Peter M, Birrer S (2012) Altitude modifies species richness-nutrient indicator value relationships in a country-wide survey of grassland vegetation. Ecol Indic 20:134–142. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2012.02.011

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Kapfer J, Grytnes JA, Gunnarsson U, Birks HJB (2011) Fine-scale changes in vegetation composition in a boreal mire over 50 years. J Ecol 99:1179–1189

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Kapfer J, Hédl R, Jurasinski G, Kopecký M, Schei FH, Grytnes JA (2017) Resurveying historical vegetation data—opportunities and challenges. Appl Veg Sci 20:164–171

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Käsermann C, Meyer F, Steiner A (2003) Les richesses de la nature en Valais—Le monde végétal de Zermatt. Rotten, Viège

    Google Scholar 

  19. Klein G, Vitasse Y, Rixen C, Marty C, Rebetez M (2016) Shorter snow cover duration since 1970 in the Swiss Alps due to earlier snowmelt more than to later snow onset. Clim Change 139:637–649. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-016-1806-y

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Klein G, Rebetez M, Rixen C, Vitasse Y (2018) Unchanged risk of frost exposure for subalpine and alpine plants after snowmelt in Switzerland despite climate warming. Int J Biometeorol 62:1755–1762

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. Körner C (2003) Alpine plant life. Springer, Berlin

    Book  Google Scholar 

  22. Küfmann C (2003) Soil types and eolian dust in high-mountainous karst of the Northern Calcareous Alps (Zugspitzplatt, Wetterstein Mountains, Germany). CATENA 53:211–227

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Landolt E, Bäumler B, Erhardt A et al (2010) Flora Indicativa. Ecological indicator values and biological attributes of the Flora of Switzerland and the Alps. Haupt, Berne

    Google Scholar 

  24. Lauber K, Wagner G, Gygax A (2012) Flora helvetica. Haupt, Bern

    Google Scholar 

  25. Maliniemi T, Kapfer J, Saccone P, Skog A, Virtanen R (2018) Long-term vegetation changes of treeless heath communities in northern Fennoscandia: links to climate change trends and reindeer grazing. J Veg Sci 29:469–479

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Matteodo M, Wipf S, Stöckli V, Rixen C, Vittoz P (2013) Elevation gradient of successful plant traits for colonizing alpine summits under climate change. Environ Res Lett 8:024043. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024043

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Matteodo M, Ammann K, Verrecchia EP, Vittoz P (2016) Snowbeds are more affected than other subalpine–alpine plant communities by climate change in the Swiss Alps. Ecol Evol 6:6969–6982. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.2354

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  28. Odland A (2009) Interpretation of altitudinal gradients in South Central Norway based on vascular plants as environmental indicators. Ecol Indic 9:409–421

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. OFEV (2018) La qualité de l’air en 2017. Résultats du Réseau national d’observation des polluants atmosphériques (NABEL). OFEV, Bern

    Google Scholar 

  30. Pauli H, Gottfried M, Dullinger S et al (2012) Recent plant diversity changes on Europe’s mountain summits. Science 336:353–355

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Prunier P, Greulich F, Béguin C et al. (2017) Phytosuisse: un référentiel pour les associations végétales de Suisse. https://www.infoflora.ch/fr/milieux/phytosuisse.html. Accessed 17 Apr 2019

  32. Rastner P, Joerg PC, Huss M, Zemp M (2016) Historical analysis and visualization of the retreat of Findelengletscher, Switzerland, 1859–2010. Glob Planet Change 145:67–77. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloplacha.2016.07.005

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Rebetez M, Reinhard M (2008) Monthly air temperature trends in Switzerland 1901–2000 and 1975–2004. Theor Appl Climatol 91:27–34

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Richard JL (1991) Flore et végétation de Zermatt (VS): premier aperçu et réflexions. Bull Murith 109:27–40

    Google Scholar 

  35. Ross LC, Woodin SJ, Hester AJ, Thompson DBA, Birks HJB (2012) Biotic homogenization of upland vegetation: patterns and drivers at multiple spatial scales over five decades. J Veg Sci 23:755–770. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1654-1103.2012.01390.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Roth T, Kohli L, Rihm B, Amrhein V, Achermann B (2015) Nitrogen deposition and multi-dimensional plant diversity at the landscape scale. R Soc Open Sci 2:150017

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  37. Sandvik SM, Odland A (2014) Changes in alpine snowbed-wetland vegetation over three decades in northern Norway. Nord J Bot 32:377–384. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1756-1051.2013.00249.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Serquet G, Marty C, Rebetez M (2013) Monthly trends and the corresponding altitudinal shift in the snowfall/precipitation day ratio. Theor Appl Climatol 114:437–444. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00704-013-0847-7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Service géologique national (2005) Carte géologique de la Suisse 1:500’000. OFEG, Bern-Ittigen

    Google Scholar 

  40. Steinbauer MJ, Grytnes JA, Jurasinski G et al (2018) Accelerated increase in plant species richness on mountain summits is linked to warming. Nature 556:231–234. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0005-6

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  41. Steiner A (2002) Die Vegetation der Gemeinde Zermatt. Geobot Helvet 74:1–204

    Google Scholar 

  42. Stevens CJ, Thompson K, Grime JP, Long CJ, Gowing DJG (2010) Contribution of acidification and eutrophication to declines in species richness of calcifuge grasslands along a gradient of atmospheric nitrogen deposition. Funct Ecol 24:478–484

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Stocker TF, Qin D, Plattner GK et al (2013) Technical Summary. In: Stocker TF, Qin D, Plattner GK (eds) Climate change 2013: the physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  44. R Core Team (2017) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna. http://www.r-project.org/. Accessed 17 Apr 2019

  45. Virtanen R, Eskelinen A, Gaare E (2003) Long-term changes in alpine plant communities in Norway and Finland. In: Nagy L, Grabherr G, Körner C, Thompson DBA (eds) Alpine biodiversity in Europe. Springer, Berlin, pp 411–422

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  46. Vitasse Y, Rebetez M, Filippa G, Cremonese E, Klein G, Rixen C (2017) ‘Hearing’ alpine plants growing after snowmelt: ultrasonic snow sensors provide long-term series of alpine plant phenology. Int J Biometeorol 61:349–361

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  47. Vittoz P, Bodin J, Ungricht S, Burga C, Walther GR (2008) One century of vegetation change on Isla Persa, a nunatak in the Bernina massif in the Swiss Alps. J Veg Sci 19:671–680

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Vittoz P, Dussex N, Wassef J, Guisan A (2009a) Diaspore traits discriminate good from weak colonisers on high-elevation summits. Basic Appl Ecol 10:508–515

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Vittoz P, Randin CF, Dutoit A, Bonnet F, Hegg O (2009b) Low impact of climate change on subalpine grasslands in the Swiss Northern Alps. Glob Change Biol 15:209–220

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Vonlanthen CM, Bühler A, Veit H, Kammer PM, Eugster W (2006a) Alpine plant communities: a statistical assessment of their relation to microclimatological, pedological, geomorphological, and other factors. Phys Geogr 27:137–154

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Vonlanthen CM, Kammer PM, Eugster W, Bühler A, Veit H (2006b) Alpine vascular plant species richness: the importance of daily maximum temperature and pH. Plant Ecol 184:13–25

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to J.-L. Richard, B. Bressoud, C. Käsermann, S. Krähenmann, F. Meyer and S. Reist who collected the historical data, to A. Steiner who transmitted them to us, to M. Vust for his help in lichen identification and to J. Alexander for English editing. We also thank the Burgergemeinde Zermatt for authorising this study on their properties and the Zermatt Bergbahnen AG for offering the travelling costs for the cable cars during fieldwork.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Pascal Vittoz.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Declaration of authorship

All authors designed the study, LL and SM inventoried the plots in the fields and analysed the data under the advices of MM and PV, and all authors contributed to the manuscript.

Ethical statement

The authors declare that they respected ethical standards.

Informed consent

The investigation in the field was conducted with authorisation of the Burgergemeinde Zermatt.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 389 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Liberati, L., Messerli, S., Matteodo, M. et al. Contrasting impacts of climate change on the vegetation of windy ridges and snowbeds in the Swiss Alps. Alp Botany 129, 95–105 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00035-019-00223-5

Download citation

Keywords

  • Salicion herbaceae
  • Elynion
  • Snow cover
  • Temperature
  • Quasi-permanent plots
  • Vegetation dynamics
  • Switzerland