Plants Surviving Global Warming on Mountainsides
Scherrer, D. and Korner, C. 2011. Topographically controlled thermal-habitat differentiation buffers alpine plant diversity against climate warming. Journal of Biogeography 38: 406-416.
Working in the temperate-alpine zone near Furka Pass in the Swiss central Alps on three steep mountain slopes with north-north-west, west and south-south-east exposures (all located well above the climatic tree line), the two Swiss scientists used high-resolution infrared thermometry and large numbers of small data loggers "to assess the spatial and temporal variation of plant-surface and ground temperatures as well as snow-melt patterns for 889 plots distributed across the three alpine slopes," with the goal of identifying "thermal habitat preferences in alpine plant species across mosaics of topographically controlled micro-habitats," in order to see just how far (and, consequently, just how fast) a plant might have to migrate to remain within its zone of livability in a rapidly warming world.
Within their study area, Scherrer and Korner observed a substantial variation between micro-habitats in seasonal mean soil temperature (ΔT = 7.2°C), plant-surface temperature (ΔT = 10.5°C) and season length (>32 days), with meter-scale thermal contrasts significantly exceeding IPCC warming projections for the next hundred years.
In discussing their findings, the two researchers state that their data "indicate a great risk of overestimating alpine habitat losses in isotherm-based model scenarios" -- such as the climate envelope approach -- concluding, in fact, that "due to their topographic variability, alpine landscapes are likely to be safer places for most species than lowland terrain in a warming world."