Climate change and alpine ecosystems

Naturbilde med et lite trantre i front og snødekke og trær i bakgrunn.

We need relevant research to establish a knowledge basis for conservation and management of plant and animal populations in changing alpine ecosystems.

Climate change involves complex interactions and changing likelihoods of diverse impacts, which are strongest and most comprehensive for natural systems. At medium to high latitudes, winter precipitation and air temperatures are projected to continue to increase in the future, and changing precipitation and/or melting snow and ice are already altering hydrological cycles. In alpine and arctic ecosystems temperature, precipitation, snow and ice are crucial environmental stressors. Alpine and arctic species are therefore particularly vulnerable, but also potentially adaptive to climate change.

Main research questions

The research group, representing central research disciplines as climatology, botany, zoology, terrestrial and aquatic ecology, behavioural ecology, genetics, GIS-modelling, focus on:

  • Analyses show systematic reduction of snow and ice on the regional scale in alpine areas, but how will snow distribution and quality change locally, and by which factors (snow accumulation, solar radiation, wind, topography)?
  • Will increased precipitation result in more snow in high-mountain areas?
  • How will the increased rate of snow-melt, leading to an earlier snow-free conditions in spring at most sites, affect microclimatic conditions?
  • How will changed snow and ice impact soil temperatures, which again affect the depth of soil freezing and soil temperatures in general?
  • May modeling of potential climate change impacts in vulnerable high alpine ecosystems, in particular snow modelling, be a suitable tool (with sufficient resolution) to indicate present and future adaptive biota responses?
  • Which are suitable indicator species to validate modelled responses through empirical data (trophic levels, spatio-temporal scales)?
  • How will changed snow and ice influence exposure to the atmosphere for plants and small rodents?
  • How will changed snow and ice influence and admission to fodder for large herbivores?
  • How will the increased rate of snow-melt, leading to an earlier snow-free conditions in spring at most sites, affect resource availability and use for rodents and large herbivores?
  • How important are soil temperatures for the altitudinal distribution of forest limits?
  • How importance are soil temperatures for the sustained growth and distribution of alpine lichen heaths?
  • What are the relationships between vegetation type distribution, snow and altitude in the Hardangervidda area?
  • How close are the relationships between soil and air temperatures in different vegetation types ecosystems?
  • To what extent are the albedo on the annual variations of soil temperatures?
  • To what extent is soil structure and richness related to variation in alpine and subalpine forest vegetation types?
  • What are the relationships between species richness and soil richness along altitudinal gradients?
  • Gradients in species distribution and species richness on mountain summits in Norway.
  • Geographic variations in forest limits in Norway.

We will apply models and observations to explore relationships between climate variables and distribution and area use by selected species representing diverse but interrelated ecological combinations and tropic levels (plants, small rodents and the top herbivore, wild reindeer). Our principal research area, Hardangervidda, is the largest European mountain plateau, it has the largest wild reindeer population in Europe, and several rare and red-listed plant species and nature types are found. The area also includes a climate gradient from west to east and therefore represents a rare self-control sample.

Main cooperative partners and network

  • Norwegian Meteorological Institute (NMI)/Inger Hanssen Bauer
  • Norwegian University for Life Sciences (NMBU)/Knut Røed, Olav Hjeljord, Reidar Borgstrøm
  • University of Oslo, Laboratory for Freshwater Ecology/Åge Brabrand, Svein J. Saltveit
  • Linköping University, Scienvisic/Thomas Chevalier, Jörgen Ahlberg
  • Swedish Defense Research Insitute, Linköping/Jonas Karlsson
  • Norwegian Wild Reindeer Centre/Anders Mossing, Lena Romtveit
  • University in Agder/Lars Koslung/Sylvi Marlen Sandvik

Ongoing research projects

Climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptive responses in high alpine natural ecosystems:

Present trophic responses to snow in the largest European mountain plateau (Hardangervidda) and models for the future/ Inger Hanssen Bauer, Dagrun Vikhamar-Schuler, Eirik Førland, Inger Hanssen-Bauer, Lars Korslund, Øyvind Steifetten, Stephanie Reinhardt, Jan Heggenes, Dag K. Bjerketvedt, Arvid Odland,

Trampling and loss of lichen in wild reindeer. Jan Heggenes, Dag K. Bjerketvedt, Arvid Odland, Thomas Chevalier, Jörgen Ahlberg, Jonas Karlsson

Winter foraging and cratering in wild reindeer. Tom Salamonsen, Thomas W. Johanessen, Jan Heggenes, Dag K. Bjerketvedt, Arvid Odland

Ongoing PhD projects

Wild reindeer genetics and phylogeography in small populations. Kjersti S. Kvie. Supervisors: Jan Heggenes, Knut Røed

Comparisons of birch forests and environmental conditions in Southern and Northern Norway. Gauri Bandekar, Arvid Odland.

Comparisons between heath vegetation types in Northernmost Norway, Bear Island, and Svalbard. Gauri Bandekar, Arvid Odland, Live S. Vestgarden, Inger Hanssen Bauer.

Relationships between lichen heaths, soil temperatures, air temperatures, and soil variables. Shea A. Sundstøl, Arvid Odland, Live S. Vestgarden, Inger Hanssen Bauer.

Research Group Leader:

Members of the Research Group: