Climate warming can induce the encroachment of shrubs and may trigger treeline dynamics. However, the responses of shrubs and trees to climate change may be modulated by other environmental drivers such as land-use change and biological interactions. The European Alps are one of the three areas experiencing the most intense warming globally in the twentieth century. We analyse, through a multidisciplinary approach, the shrub and tree encroachment at the Stelvio Pass (Italian Alps) focusing on three target species (Rhododendron ferrugineum, Larix decidua, Pinus mugo) to reconstruct their dynamics and assess which drivers (climate change, land-use change, biological interactions provided by shrub facilitation) promoted their ingression. Shrub colonization started in 1867, in coincidence with the end of the Little Ice Age. Tree recruitment started since 1960 for P. mugo and 1972 for L. decidua and correlated strongly with air warming and shortening of the snow cover duration. Climate (air temperature, snow cover) exhibited the highest correlation with shrub and tree dynamics both during the period of recruitment and in the following and preceding 5-year period. Air warming appeared to be crucial for tree ingression and persistence. Land-use change was not related to shrub encroachment, and only weakly to tree recruitment. Both the correlation analysis as well as the patterns of recruitment highlighted that shrubs were characterized by different ecological requirements from trees. There was not a “nurse effect” of shrubs on trees, and this biotic interaction changed with the developmental stage of the involved species, being lowest for seedlings and highest for adults, requiring further investigations. Future scenarios of climate change indicate a further and intense warming, and our data show that it is likely that shrub and tree encroachment will proceed, with relevant consequences on the extremely vulnerable high-elevation alpine ecosystems.

Climate Warming Persistence Triggered Tree Ingression After Shrub Encroachment in a High Alpine Tundra

Malfasi F.
Primo
;
Cannone N.
Ultimo
2020

Abstract

Climate warming can induce the encroachment of shrubs and may trigger treeline dynamics. However, the responses of shrubs and trees to climate change may be modulated by other environmental drivers such as land-use change and biological interactions. The European Alps are one of the three areas experiencing the most intense warming globally in the twentieth century. We analyse, through a multidisciplinary approach, the shrub and tree encroachment at the Stelvio Pass (Italian Alps) focusing on three target species (Rhododendron ferrugineum, Larix decidua, Pinus mugo) to reconstruct their dynamics and assess which drivers (climate change, land-use change, biological interactions provided by shrub facilitation) promoted their ingression. Shrub colonization started in 1867, in coincidence with the end of the Little Ice Age. Tree recruitment started since 1960 for P. mugo and 1972 for L. decidua and correlated strongly with air warming and shortening of the snow cover duration. Climate (air temperature, snow cover) exhibited the highest correlation with shrub and tree dynamics both during the period of recruitment and in the following and preceding 5-year period. Air warming appeared to be crucial for tree ingression and persistence. Land-use change was not related to shrub encroachment, and only weakly to tree recruitment. Both the correlation analysis as well as the patterns of recruitment highlighted that shrubs were characterized by different ecological requirements from trees. There was not a “nurse effect” of shrubs on trees, and this biotic interaction changed with the developmental stage of the involved species, being lowest for seedlings and highest for adults, requiring further investigations. Future scenarios of climate change indicate a further and intense warming, and our data show that it is likely that shrub and tree encroachment will proceed, with relevant consequences on the extremely vulnerable high-elevation alpine ecosystems.
Alpine tundra ecotone; Alps; Climate change; Plant–plant interactions; Shrubs; Treeline
Malfasi, F.; Cannone, N.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11383/2088486
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