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Research project (§ 26 & § 27)
Duration : 2022-03-01 - 2023-01-31

Human‐induced temperature increase has amplified during the past decades particularly at high elevations, whereas changes in precipitation patterns have been regionally more variable. Although alpine plants are long‐lived and persistent against both exceptionally warm and cold weather, they are sensitive to warmer conditions and drought over longer periods. The international monitoring network GLORIA has established permanent plots in mountains, enabling comparisons of species distribution and vegetation composition and their changes since the beginning of the century. To better understand the species’ response to the environment and to environmental changes, this project focuses on plant functional traits on GLORIA summits, that are related to the performance of plants and their response to environmental factors and also provide a link between species richness and functional diversity. For 2022 we aim to characterize c.60 species from Hochschwab, representing > 80% of the cover by vascular plants in GLORIA-plots. We will measure more traits than most comparable studies (there have been few on alpine plants) including “hard” traits with clear adaptive significance, and already sampled and tested for 57 species on the GLORIA site Schrankogel in 2021. We will not only examine differences in species adaptions, but also between different mountain ranges with different climatic and geologic conditions. Plant functional traits, combined with precise monitoring data, are a powerful basis for assessing directional, climate‐induced losses in biodiversity and ecosystem services and are important for adjustments of conservation strategies under accelerating climate change.
Research project (§ 26 & § 27)
Duration : 2022-01-01 - 2022-12-31

As a consequence of climate change, mortality of canopy trees has doubled in European temperate forests over the last three decades. Accelerated tree mortality causes changes in ecological communities, alters ecosystem function, reduces ecosystem services, and can have land–climate feedbacks. Currently, the drivers and mechanisms of tree mortality are still under debate and are most probably a result of complex interdependencies of mutually inclusive mechanics. However, a mechanistic understanding of tree mortality is crucial to lessen economic and cultural harm and sustain forest production systems. The majority of studies on tree mortality focus predominantly on drought stress as the initial trigger of tree mortality. Given the predicted significant increase in frequency, duration, and intensity of temperature extremes (heatwaves), the role of thermal stress will gain of great importance in climate-change-related ecosystem research. In this project, we will on tree-size dependent thermal stress in a temperate forest.
Research project (§ 26 & § 27)
Duration : 2022-05-01 - 2023-11-30

The diversity of organisms, one of the most striking features of life on Earth, is under threat, and climate change may become a major driver of the biodiversity crisis in the decades to come. However, climate effects on species will vary across ecosystems and regions. The fate of the rich and peculiar alpine flora in a warming world is particularly contentious. While some researchers expect massive loss of cold-adapted plants because they have little options to escape the heat (‘mountaintop extinction’), others assume low sensitivity of high-mountain floras due to widespread microclimatic refugia in the topographically complex alpine terrain. MICROCLIM aims to assess the evidence for these contradictory expectations by linking so far separated research strands of monitoring and predictive modelling of alpine plant distribution. In particular, we will, first, provide a comprehensive evaluation of standard modelling approaches by comparing their predictions with Europe-wide monitoring of mountain top floras and analyse the role of spatial scale for possible mismatches between models and observations of change. Second, we will develop a novel modelling framework that simulates the simultaneous range dynamics of many interacting species. We will parameterise this model by means of experiments and observational data and evaluate it against monitoring data on an exemplary mountain. We will then apply the model to simulate the dynamics of the flora of this mountain over the 21st century at a very fine spatial resolution to evaluate the proposed rescue effect of microclimatic variation in alpine terrain. We will finally generalize the results achieved in these dynamic simulations to all summits included in the European mountaintop monitoring network. The results of MICROCLIM will help understanding how threatened the unique alpine flora of Europe actually is in a warming world and whether mitigating conservation measures will be required to secure its long-term survival.

Supervised Theses and Dissertations