By Tim Radford
Mountain plants are on the rise. The number of species on the highest European mountains has multiplied fivefold.
Data gathered over 145 years from 302 peaks shows that the count of wild plants that have colonized the highest zones has increased five times faster than during a comparable decade 50 years ago.
This may not, in the long run, be good news. The enriching of the high life is unequivocally linked to global warming: changes in precipitation, or in nutrient supplies, are not enough to account for the growth in alpine colonists.
More than 50 scientists from Denmark, Norway, Germany, France, Austria, the UK, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, Spain and Slovakia reported in the journal Nature that such change has "potentially far-reaching consequences not only for biodiversity, but also for ecosystem functioning and services."
The finding was possible because European botanists and biologists began assembling data on the plant growth at the highest sites in the 1870s and have maintained their databases ever since.
The scientists found that between 1957 and 1966, the average number of species on the 300 peaks increased by 1.1 on average. Between 2007-2016, on average 5.5 species made it to the top.
The study does not, so far, suggest that new species have displaced the original residents. But plants adapted to the conditions on the highest peaks may run out of options as the mountains themselves get warmer.
"Some of the species which have adapted to the cold and rocky conditions on mountain summits will probably disappear in the long term. They have nowhere else to go, and they can't develop rapidly enough to be able to compete with the new arrivals, which are taller and more competitive under warmer climates," said Manuel Steinbauer, who led the research while at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, but who is now at Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany.
"The species that move upwards often come from grassland above the tree line. But they can't survive everywhere on the mountain top, so it's not certain that they will be a threat to all the existing species up there. The local soil conditions and micro-climates also play a role."
Mountains are natural laboratories, and researchers have been monitoring high altitude change for decades. Conservationists and biologists have repeatedly warned that mountain ecosystems are more vulnerable to climate change.
They have measured the rate at which plants, birds and insects have gained in altitude in the Swiss Alps and in the Andes. They have observed change in the mix of alpine flowers and even detected diminution in the body size of alpine chamois, with increasing temperature.
So change at the highest level comes as no great surprise. But as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rise in response to ever greater use of fossil fuels, and as global average temperatures increase, species at the extremes could increasingly be at risk.
"Even though the existing species on mountain tops are not acutely endangered, the strong acceleration in the effects of global warming on plant communities on the peaks does give cause for concern, as we expect far stronger climate change toward 2100," explained Jens-Christian Svenning at Aarhus University, another of the authors.
New Study Is First to Demonstrate That Biodiversity Inoculates Against Extinction https://t.co/GsoGXgDP2b… https://t.co/W30DNURvN9— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1520853013.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.