Subproject BIO: Vegetation

This project part is carried out at the Department of Botany, University of Innsbruck. Prof Dr Brigitta Erschbamer leads the project; Katharina Ramskogler MSc performs her PhD within the project.

Interactions between plant colonization and disturbance processes such as erosion and sediment deposition will be investigated. Disturbances determine plant colonization and growth, but conversely, plants drive also geomorphological/hydrological feedback.

The evolution of plant communities, the relationship of vegetation and soil, and the reaction of vegetation to disturbances as well as the changes of vegetation due to climate change will be investigated covering the time slices 1850-1920, 1920-1980, 1980-today along the following scales: microscale (colonization), mesoscale (restoration after disturbances), and macroscale (land cover changes). The investigations cover disturbance gradients and elevation gradients. We hypothesize that:

(i) cryospheric processes (glacier retreat, vanishing of permafrost and lower snow cover) influence colonization and community evolution.

 (ii) a close interaction exists between vegetation, soil and geomorphological/hydrological disturbances. Specific functional reactions of the plants are expected.

 (iii) disturbances facilitate range shifts of species from lower elevations. Successfully migrating species have specific functional traits, enabling range expansions.

 (iv) climate change is the essential driver of vegetation changes for the time slices mentioned above.  (v) the most pronounced vegetation change effects occur for time slice 1980-today.