Plants are moving at higher altitudes: the study broadens

Over the last two summer seasons, the Botanists of Rovereto Civic Museum, in collaboration with the Department of Agronomy, Food, Natural Resources, Animals and Environment at the University of Padua, have launched a research project on flora growing on mountain peaks within the Natural Parks of the Trentino Dolomites. The study enables a deeper understanding of the effects of the climate crisis and rising temperatures, and is now being extended to other groups of the Dolomites World Heritage Site, thanks to funding from the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation.

Anemone hepatica. Ph. Manuel Bernard

Anemone hepatica. Ph. Manuel Bernard

Significant results

With the support of the Adamello Brenta Natural Park Global Geopark, Stelvio National Park and Paneveggio – Pale di San Martino Natural Park, in the two previous summer seasons (2022–23), botanists climbed an impressive 27 peaks in Trentino, all above 2,700 m, collecting almost 8,000 items of georeferenced data regarding the presence of plants, for 300 different species. There was a particular focus on 137 species that only grow above 3,000 m altitude. The results have been extremely significant: more than 200 plant species have raised their maximum altitude limits compared to the past, at the provincial level. Some of these have altered by just tens of metres, while others more than 500 metres, such as certain species of ferns (Cryptogramma crispa, Dryopteris dilatata, Dryopteris filix-mas, Diphasium alpinum, etc.). The absolute altitude limit for plants in Trentino, as stated in the report published on the website of the Rovereto Civic Museum Foundation, was recorded as 3,607 m: a small grass (Poa laxa) found on Punta Taviela in the Stelvio National Park.

Research across the Dolomites

As the researchers note: “[…] if the climate continues to heat at its current rate, within a few decades the woodland will invade alpine grasslands, and glacial moraines will become increasingly grassy with the extinction of species adapted to live in colder environments”; this is why it is important to extend the study to other Dolomite groups across the World Heritage Site. Starting next summer, there will also be educational events, in the context of the festival organised together with mountain hut managers from the World Heritage Site. One of these will discuss the raising of vegetation altitude limits, also in relation to changes in fauna. All of the information will be available in the coming newsletters and on the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation social media channels.