Subproject BIO: Vegetation

Project part 1

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.

Project part 2

In part II, the sub-project “Short-and long-term feedback between vegetation, morphodynamic processes and climate change” is carried out by the Institute for Alpine Environment (Eurac Research). The project leader is PD Dr. Mag. Erich Tasser; Katharina Ramskogler MSc will work as a researcher in the project.

Title of the subproject in part II is: Short- and long-term feedback between vegetation and morphodynamic processes and climate warming. Interactions between vegetation, natural hazards (e.g., mud flows, landslides, glacier retreat, and so on) and climate warming will be investigated.

The main objective is to predict changes in vegetation in glacier forelands as well as the changes in the alpine to nivale ecotone due to climate change. Natural disturbances such as mudflows, landslides, and glacier retreat are also considered. The forecast is based on the findings in SEHAG I in time steps of 10 years (starting with 2030 and ending with 2050).