Ecology and global change in alpine regions

Posted by Michelle:

I attended the International School on Alpine Ecology and Global Change hosted by the University of Innsbruck. There were talks by 21 researchers from 7 institutions in Europe and North America. The conference covered topics in both terrestrial and aquatic ecology. Participants included 20 graduate students and post docs from difference institutions in Europe, Asia, North and South America. The conference was held two hours outside of Innsbruck, Austria in the alpine ski village of Obergurgl. The facility was amazing; lunch and dinner consisted of 3 to 5 courses! I feel quite spoiled…

While the researcher presentations were all interesting, I want to share a few take-aways:

Christian Körner, Switzerland:
Many alpine plants respond more to photoperiod than to temperature. There has been must discussion that plants are limited by the opportunity to “escape” changes in temperature or solar radiation by colonizing higher in mountains. Such limitations will not be a significant problem for plants because microclimates are so highly variable within small spatial areas and because of the opportunity for plants to colonize laterally (e.g. north facing slopes) around mountains. The greatest risk to alpine plants is continued land use (mainly grazing) practices.

Richard Bardgett, UK:
Large herbivores (e.g. moose, caribou, cattle) can alter ecosystem productivity through selective grazing and fecal return. Removal of deer for example, led to shift from N to P limitation in regenerating woodlands.

David Livingstone, Switzerland:
Air temperatures in the Alps are increasing at a rate 2x that of the global mean. Such increases in regional will alter circulation patterns in lakes by increasing the thermal stability (differences in temperatures between the epilimnion and hypolimnion). This may shift dimictic lakes to monomictic lakes

Ruben Sommaruga, Austria:
In high elevation clear lakes, many organisms obtain screening compounds for protection against UV radiation. While phytoplankton and cyanobacteria can synthesize these compounds, zooplankton obtain them through their diet. There are 2 main types of UV screening pigments: carotinoids and mycosporine-like amino acids (MAA). There is evidence that increases in available N (such as through atmospheric deposition) may increase MAA production as a UV screening mechanism. This may benefit zooplankton because unlike carotinoids, MAA is colorless and may help the zooplankton evade predation.

Rolf Vinebrooke, Canada:
In mesocosm experiments, water warming treatments suppressed zooplankton abundance, especially in daphnia-dominated systems. This treatment did not change total phytoplankton biomass, but resulted in a shift in the community composition to less edible species (i.e. higher C:N, C:P). Interestingly, zooplankton also responded negatively to increases in DOC, perhaps do to a “toxic” effect of aromatic carbon compounds.

The conference ended with a day-long hike in the Tyrolean Alps along the outflow of the Rotmoos glacier. There were demonstrations of equipment to measure water potential and transpiration of plants. We also gathered and compared invertebrates between a glacial and mountain stream.

If you are interested in hearing more about the conference, let me know.

Glacial outflow from Rotmoos

Glacial outflow from Rotmoos


One response to “Ecology and global change in alpine regions

  1. Hey, is that guy adding some N and P to the stream????

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