New research has warned that alpine flowering plants could go extinct as a consequence of glaciers disappearing and more competitive species would take over terrain higher up the mountain.
Glaciers are receding at freakish rates, revealing new ground for plants to grow, something very beneficial for delicate alpine varieties in the short term. Even so, these early colonizers- most of which are endemic – become endangered as more invasive species take over. This drives the earlier plants out of their prevailing habitat and decreases biodiversity. Up to 22% of species spread across four glaciers would disappear from Italian Alps once the glaciers have gone. Endemic plants such as mignonette-leaved bitter-cress, mossy saxifrage, and purple mountain saxifrage will become extinct 150 years after the glaciers completely melt away. After 150 years, the competition becomes vicious, and more common species such as dwarf yellow cinquefoil, alpine sedge, and alpine meadow-grass have the upper hand.
Proglacial habitats are highly receptive to global warming, and high altitude species are subject to “an escalator to extinction”. To survive, they need to shift to higher altitudes as the climate warms, but are unable to do so as there’s no space. The researchers believe the study is inclusive of alpine conditions elsewhere in the Alps, the Himalayas, the Karakoram, and the Andes. They also found that 51% of species will get affected by the retreat of glaciers, of which 22% of species’ fate would be local extinction. Researchers made use of geological resources to reconstruct glaciers to work out the event when ice would retreat from different parts of the mountain. These statistics were later combined with a survey of plant species observed in different glacial plots. The study included Rutor glacier, Vedretta di Cedec glacier, Vedretta d'Amola glacier and Western Trobio glacier. With these data sets, changes over the past 5000 years and predictions for the future are being developed by researchers. The condition of the Italian Alps will depend on precipitation. Studies from the University of Zurich have earlier concluded that alpine plants are not keeping up with global warming. In the Highlands of Scotland, Britain's rarest alpine plants were retreating to higher altitudes and replaced by grasses found at lower altitudes.
Raising awareness among people about the fragile mountain ecosystems as well as working to reduce emissions could help protect these glacial environments. Encouraging tourists to stick to the paths and not build further ski slopes would also help. Conservationists across the globe have set off alarms about this, to work together to meet the challenge of biodiversity loss and climate change. By careful execution of plans to stop emissions, the parallel threats of nitrogen deposition and climate change will delay itself a bit further.
Subscribe below to receive weekly newsletters.