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Potential Impact of Climate Change on Vegetation in the European Alps: A Review

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Year of publication2001
Author(s)Jean-Paul Theurillat
Co-authorsAntoine Guisan
Based on conclusions drawn from general climatic impact assessment in mountain regions, the review synthesizes results relevant to the European Alps published mainly from 1994 onward in the fields of population genetics, ecophysiology, phenology, phytogeography, modeling, paleoecology and vegetation dynamics. Other important factors of global change interacting synergistically with climatic factors are also mentioned, such as atmospheric CO2 concentration, eutrophication, ozone or changes in land-use. Topics addressed are general species distribution and populations (persistence, acclimation, genetic variability, dispersal, fragmentation, plant/animal interaction, species richness, conservation), potential response of vegetation (ecotonal shift – area, physiography – changes in the composition, structural changes), phenology, growth and productivity, and landscape. In conclusion, the European Alps appear to have a natural inertia and thus to tolerate an increase of 1–2 K of mean air temperature as far as plant species and ecosystems are concerned in general. However, the impact of land-use is very likely to negate this buffer in many areas. For a change of the order of 3 K or more, profound changes may be expected.