NOT all species are equal before global warming

Our new study indicates that plant diversity initially increases with glacier retreat, but ultimately decreases once glaciers disappear. In other words, glacier retreat favors certain plants, but many species (22% of those analysed) may locally disappear or even go extinct once glaciers are gone. Interesting enough, plant facilitation prevails among pioneer species, whereas competition is more common among late species, suggesting a role of facilitation for enhancing plant diversity in recently-deglaciated terrains and of competition for decreasing species persistence in late stages.

Glacier retreat and biodiversity change
Glacier retreat and biodiversity change

We show that “not all species are equal before global warming”. There are some species benefiting from global warming – the so called ‘winners’, while other will suffer – the ‘losers’. The same pattern is observed in many other cases and systems, including socio-economic ones. Even more interesting, we found indication that ‘losers’ facilitate each other whereas ‘winners’ are more competitive, supporting and decreasing their persistence, respectively.

It is important to understand the impact of glacier retreat on plant biodiversity because plants are the primary producers at the basis of the food web that sustains our lives and economies, and biodiversity is key to healthy ecosystems. In our case study, plant biodiversity provides several goods and services to humans and their well-being. For instance, our findings indicate that among the most concerned species there is Artemisia genipi, a rare endemic aromatic plant well-known in alpine traditions for its liquor.

This study addresses the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity by matching two goals and many targets of the UN Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. These include understanding mechanisms of biodiversity loss and enhancing conservation and sustainable management of threatened species and critical ecosystems. Our study, with its results and overall approach, may help conservationists, natural park managers, and practitioners mitigating and anticipating the consequences of anthropogenic impact on Earth’s ecosystems.

Link to the article:

Citation: Losapio G, Cerabolini BEL, Maffioletti C, Tampucci D, Gobbi M and Caccianiga M (2021) The Consequences of Glacier Retreat Are Uneven Between Plant Species. Front. Ecol. Evol. 8:616562. doi: 10.3389/fevo.2020.616562

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