Research Topic

Consequences of Climate Change for Plant Biodiversity in High Mountain Ecosystems

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About this Research Topic

Plant biodiversity in high mountains is a crucial element supporting life on Earth. For example, plants in these ecosystems trap precipitation and allow water to be stored in snowfields, glaciers, and soil. Additionally, snow melting provides water needed for human consumption, agriculture, industries, ...

Plant biodiversity in high mountains is a crucial element supporting life on Earth. For example, plants in these ecosystems trap precipitation and allow water to be stored in snowfields, glaciers, and soil. Additionally, snow melting provides water needed for human consumption, agriculture, industries, hydroelectric generation and aquifer recharge. Thus, mountains are considered to be water towers, delivering water to lowland areas. The combination of geological phenomena (tectonic plates, volcanism) and adaptation to extreme environmental conditions (freezing, high solar radiation) has led to the evolution of specialized ecological strategies and a considerable number of endemic plant species in these areas, making high mountain ecosystems invaluable biodiversity hotspots.

The impact of climate change on high mountain ecosystems is undoubted. Increases in mean temperatures and extreme heating and freezing events, anomalies in snowfall and melt, fast glacier retreats, and increased fire risk have been documented in several mountain areas worldwide. Given that alpine habitats are strongly controlled by environmental conditions and most of the plants here live near their physiological limits, mountains are the most sensitive systems to climate change. For instance, changes in species richness (increase and decrease) and distribution (e.g. with upload shifts and a reduction of altitudinal ranges), increase of exotic species at high elevations, changes in the balance of negative/positive interactions, and asynchrony of reproductive cycles (e.g. plant-pollinator relationships) have all been reported effects of climate change in these systems.

Despite global efforts to monitor vegetation dynamics in high-elevation ecosystems (e.g. the GLORIA network), advances in the remote monitoring of climatic conditions, and the application of new devices to ecophysiological studies, many questions remain unanswered. For example, while we have huge amounts of large-scale data for evaluating the effects of climate change on widely-distributed species, there is a lack of data for evaluating climate change-induced niche variations in rare and endemic taxa (potentially at higher risk) that often occur in isolated mountain systems. Furthermore, while climate change has been demonstrated to have a substantial impact on mountain plants, we still need to establish a consensus on the most appropriate types of traits for predicting the effects of climate change in these vulnerable ecosystems, as well as determine the best protocols for measuring these traits.

Climate change is impacting ecological and evolutionary processes on which the functioning and richness of mountain ecosystems rely on. Thus, understanding the consequences of climate change for patterns and processes of biodiversity in high mountain plant communities is of crucial importance. We propose to gather current research on the effects of climate change on the plant diversity of high mountain ecosystems worldwide, to better understand trends, address knowledge gaps, and improve our ability to predict the impacts of climate change on these plant communities.

Contributions to this Research Topic should focus on the following issues:

How does climate change affect patterns of plant diversity?

This includes the effects of different climate change components (i.e. temperature, precipitation, snow and ice distribution, fire), comparisons across mountain systems (e.g. Mediterranean, temperate, and tropical zones), changes in biotic interactions (considering key species like cushion plants that may act as nurse for other species), and expected effects on endemic, threatened or exotic plant species.

What effects does climate change have on the functional setting of mountain plant communities?

In particular, we welcome studies that evaluate which functional traits are most effective for assessing the consequences of climate change on mountain ecosystem functioning and services.

How can climate change influence the evolutionary potential of mountain flora?

We seek contributions that examine all the processes (especially microevolutionary) involved in the maintenance of species demographics and genetic resources (e.g. plant-pollinator interactions, seed dispersal and germination, early survival, population genetics).


Keywords: adaptation, biotic interactions, extreme events, functional trait, gene drift


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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