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How threatened are alpine environments? a cross taxonomic study


Cold-adapted ecosystems are often considered to be stable, species poor, and well protected. However, such ecosystems have been identified as being especially sensitive to threats from global warming. Despite this, recent studies have found low proportions of Red Listed species in these systems. In this study we explored the number of alpine species (dependent on alpine habitats for their survival) and their Red List status in Sweden. We determined the proportion of Red Listed species and explored discrepancies among different groups of organisms in terms of the proportion of Red Listed species and the criteria used for Red Listing. We found a total of 389 alpine species in twelve analyzed species groups. The overall proportion of Red Listed species was 29%, with 15% regarded as threatened. There were substantial differences among taxonomic groups with respect to the proportion of Red Listed species. Among mammals 75% of the species are Red Listed, along with 63% of butterflies and 50% of birds. In addition the single alpine dragonfly species and all three alpine stinging wasp species are also Red Listed. Although beetles, bumblebees and grasshoppers are represented by a total of 17 alpine species, none are Red Listed. In contrast to previous studies, our results show that the proportion of Red Listed species is high in alpine environments, indicating that ecosystems found above the tree line are indeed threatened. No species in Sweden have been Red Listed on the basis of the IUCN criterion E (unfavorable quantitative analysis), this is surprising since entire cold-adapted ecosystems are likely to disappear in the future. We highlight the need for a better and more coordinated application of the IUCN criteria, as well as a more stringent strategy to assess the extinction risks for alpine species, thus maintaining reliable Red Lists.

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We thank the following persons for help with identifying alpine species within different organism groups: B. Andersson, M. Aronsson, B.-Å. Bengtsson, R. Franzén, B. Gullefors, A. Knöppel, L. A. Nilsson, B. Cederberg, T. Hallingbäck, N. Cronberg, E. Öckinger and M. Olofsson. T. Ranius, S. Nakasian and M. Kutzer gave valuable comments on earlier manuscripts. This study supported by FORMAS, Stiftelsen Olle Engkvist Byggmästare and from the European Commission Framework Programme (FP) 7 via the STEP (grant 244090).

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Correspondence to Markus Franzén.

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Franzén, M., Molander, M. How threatened are alpine environments? a cross taxonomic study. Biodivers Conserv 21, 517–526 (2012).

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  • Biodiversity
  • Climate change
  • High altitude
  • Red List
  • Threatened species