History and Ecology Combine to Research Climate Change

Glen Shee Alistair BellRepeating a study once carried out 100 years ago into plants in Scotland’s alpine areas has shown that climate change is having a significant effect on them.

Aberdeen University  student Francesca Jaroszynska was repeating the work of field botanist Peter Ewing a century ago. The Aberdeen team involved in the project studied six mountain summits in Perthshire to investigate how vegetation on mountain summits is changing as a result of global warming. The data was added to that collected from 300 areas across Europe.

In Scotland the findings show that many of the plant species that were only present lower down the mountainscape are now making their way upwards. This means that plants like grasses are likely to replace herbs and dwarf shrubs in higher altitudes.

Francesca Jaroszynska said:

“This European-wide project has made very exciting and revealing inroads into our understanding of the response of alpine plants to climate change. Revisiting mountains that were walked and loved by Ewing one hundred years earlier was like travelling back in time – the mountain summits may still be there, but what grows and lives on them is very transient and vulnerable to climate change.

“The approach of combining history and ecology to tackle one of the most pressing questions in ecology today is unique, and it is gratifying that Scotland, and Aberdeen University, has been able to contribute.”

Dr Sarah Woodin, from the University of Aberdeen’s School of Biological Sciences, said:

“Our findings – and indeed that of the whole team – show that there is clear evidence of environmental destabilisation, emphasising the need for urgent action in dealing with climate change.”

The study was led by Sonja Wipf from WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, Davos, Switzerland and Manuel Steinbauer from Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Denmark and was published in Nature.

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