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High Mountain Ecosystems Under Climate Change  

Harald Pauli and Stephan R.P. Halloy

High mountains (i.e., mountains that reach above the climatic treeline) are regions where many interests converge. Their treeless alpine landscapes and ecosystems are key areas for biodiversity, they act as water sources and reservoirs, and they are cultural and religious icons. Yet, mountain environments are threatened by global stressors such as land use impacts and anthropogenic climate change, including associated species redistributions and invasions. High mountains are warming faster than lower elevations. The number of frost days is declining, glaciers are retreating, and snow is remaining for shorter periods, while CO2 partial pressure is increasing. All of these factors affect the way in which ecosystems prosper or degrade. Thanks to the compression of thermal belts and to topographic ruggedness that favors habitat heterogeneity, mountains have a high diversity of biotic communities and species richness at the landscape level. In tropical to temperature regions, high mountains are biogeographically much like islands. With small habitat areas, species tend to be distributed patchily, with populations evolving independently from those on other isolated summits. Although high mountain areas strongly differ in size, geological age, bedrock, glacial history, solar radiation, precipitation patterns, wind exposure, length of growing season, and biotic features, they are all governed by low-temperature conditions. Combined with their distribution over all climate zones on Earth, mountain habitats and their biota, therefore, represent an excellent natural indicator system for tracing the ecological impacts of global climate change. As temperatures rise, plants and animals migrate upward (and poleward). Plant and animal populations on small, isolated mountains have nowhere to go if climates warm and push them upslope. On the other hand, habitat heterogeneity may buffer against biodiversity losses by providing a multitude of potential refugia for species which become increasingly maladapted to their present habitats. Global-scale approaches to monitor climate and biotic change in high mountains as well as modeling and experimental studies are helping explain the nature of these changes. Such studies have found that species from lower elevations are colonizing habitats on mountain summits at an accelerating pace, with five times faster rates than half a century ago. Further, repeated in situ surveys in permanent plots showed a widespread transformation of alpine plant community assemblages toward more warmth-demanding and/or less cold-adapted species. Concurrently to widespread increases in overall species richness, high-elevation plant species have declined in abundance and frequency. Strongly cold-adapted plant species may directly suffer from warmer and longer growing seasons through weak abilities to adjust respiration rates to warmer conditions. Combined effects of warming and decreasing water availability will amplify detrimental effects of climatic stresses on alpine biota. Many of the dwarf and slow-growing species, however, will be affected when taller and faster-growing species from lower elevations invade and prosper with warming in alpine environments and, thus, threaten to outcompete locally established species. Warming conditions will also encourage land use changes and upward movement of agriculture, while loss of snow is a loss to ski fields and scenic tourism.

Article

Indigenous Weather Understanding in Japanese Fishing Communities  

Giovanni Bulian

Japan is one of the world’s leading marine fishing nations in globalized industrial fisheries, yet the mainstay of the national fishing industry continues to be small-scale fisheries with their own set of cultural and environmental heritage. The cultural tradition of the Japanese fishing communities still preserves the various ways of understanding local weather, which are mainly based on landscape perception and forecasting knowledge. The prediction of weather conditions for a given location and time is part of a long-established historical tradition related to the need for an “easy” understanding of the climatic and maritime environment. It encompasses a variety of practical experiences, skillful reasoning strategies, and cultural values concerning indigenous environmental knowledge, decision-making strategies, and habitual applications of knowledge in everyday life. Japanese traditional forecasting culture interfaces with modern meteorological forecasting technologies to generate a hybrid knowledge, and offers an example of the complex dialogue between global science and local science. Specifically, interpretations and meteorological observations of local weather are modes of everyday engagement with the weather that exhibit a highly nuanced ecological sophistication and continue to offer a critical discourse on the cultural, environmental, and social context of Japanese small-scale fisheries. Indigenous weather understanding is bound up with community-based cultural heritage—religious traditions, meteorological classifications, proverbs, traditional forecasting models, and selective incorporation or rejection of scientific forecasting data—that offers a general overview of the interaction between community know-how, sensory experience, skills, and cultural practices.

Article

Opportunities and Drawbacks for Alpine Tourism Under Climate Change  

Franz Prettenthaler and Christoph Neger

Alpine tourism both contributes to the generation of greenhouse gases and suffers the consequences of climate change. This has been apparent in many destinations since the late 20th century and will exacerbate further in the future. It will particularly affect the winter season, which relies heavily on snow-based activities. Since the early 21st century, these effects have largely been dealt with by the use of artificial snowmaking, which will remain an important tool for alpine tourism destinations, despite increasing efforts and costs. The effects of climate change will not be ubiquitous but, rather, will impact low-lying and less prepared resorts first, whereas those in higher elevations and with the necessary infrastructure might even benefit in the short term by shifts in tourist flows away from less attractive sites. Long term, however, climate change is a serious issue for all alpine winter sports destinations, particularly because customers might lose interest in winter activities. Regarding summer tourism, the future looks brighter, and many authors even expect an increase in tourism as other areas such as the Mediterranean become less attractive. Yet other researchers are skeptical of setting too high hopes in these projections because the situation is much more complex than assumed in many models and scenarios, considering for instance the distinct temperature preferences of visitors practicing different tourism activities. The uncertainties regarding the future of alpine tourism are even greater when climate policy, directed toward the mitigation of climate change, is taken into account as well. In this regard, to date there have been no significant impacts, but this might change under future, more extreme climatic conditions, which could lead to bolder policy actions. Moreover, consumers might change their travel preferences, favoring less carbon-intensive alternatives.