Changing climate threatens future of Alpine species

New evidence has shown that climate change in the Italian Alps is forcing some of Europe’s most remarkable plants to move to higher altitudes, cooler temperatures and probable extinction.

A recent study by European Native Seed Conservation Network (ENSCONET) members at the University of Pavia, Italy, has repeated a 50-year-old plant survey and shown that many plants have moved higher than their previously recorded limits in response to a 1.5°C rise in temperature. An estimated one in four plant species in Europe are endangered, with 800 threatened by extinction, including the blue gentian (Gentiana bavarica) and yellow-flowered coltsfoot (Tussilargo farfara), which migrated 430m. Researcher Dr Gilberto Parolo said: “It was a surprise to discover that 52 of our surveyed plant species had moved up the mountain compared to their location half a century ago, whereas no plants were discovered at lower altitudes. Furthermore, some species had already reached the top of the mountain and this means the only place for them, as our climate warms, is extinction”. ENSCONET — co-ordinated from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank — is working to safeguard their future by harvesting and conserving seeds of plants threatened with extinction and storing them until they can be re-released.

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