Ecosystems

Functional composition of subalpine and alpine vegetation in the Apennine mountains

Alpine ecosystems are shaped by climatic stress, particularly extremes of temperature and precipitation. Characterising plant functional adaptations to such stresses can give us a better understanding of a whole ecosystems’ response to global change. Plant functional traits are measurable features affecting the performance of species in a given environment and are of fundamental relevance to community assembly and dynamics. They also provide insights into how environmental factors shape biodiversity patterns at different scales. However, in Mediterranean high mountain ecosystems, functional composition and diversity of plant communities have not been investigated to date.

Silene acaulis alpine plant community in the Apennines, Italy, an ecosystem rich in endemic species for which plant functional traits were measured in this study for the first time. In the background you can see the tent used during the field work. Image credit: G. Pelino.

In a new study published in AoBP, Stanisci et al. address this gap in knowledge by analysing aboveground plant strategies for resource use (conservative vs. acquisitive) and functional diversity syndrome (convergent vs. divergent) in calcareous grasslands of the central Apennines, Italy. In the study they analysed 92 georeferenced vegetation plots extracted from the VIOLA database (high mountain VegetatIOn of centraL Apennines), of which 55 were assigned as sub-alpine and 37 were assigned as alpine ecosystems. The authors observed more acquisitive resource use strategies and a higher functional diversity in the high-altitude alpine grassland communities compared to those of the lower altitude sub-alpine grasslands. They also found subalpine grasses to be more resistant to aridity. This could make them more able to shift upwards on summit slopes that become warmer and drier as a result of global warming. The authors suggest it would be valuable to conduct similar studies on plant functional trait patterns in other Mediterranean montane grasslands to further understand our understanding of these vulnerable ecosystems.

>