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Über dieses Buch

This book provides case studies and general views of the main processes involved in the ecosystem shifts occurring in the high mountains and analyses the implications for nature conservation. Case studies from the Pyrenees are preponderant, with a comprehensive set of mountain ranges surrounded by highly populated lowland areas also being considered.

The introductory and closing chapters will summarise the main challenges that nature conservation may face in mountain areas under the environmental shifting conditions. Further chapters put forward approaches from environmental geography, functional ecology, biogeography, and paleoenvironmental reconstructions. Organisms from microbes to large carnivores, and ecosystems from lakes to forest will be considered.

This interdisciplinary book will appeal to researchers in mountain ecosystems, students and nature professionals.

This book is open access under a CC BY license.

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Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Current Challenges of High Mountain Conservation

Frontmatter

Open Access

Chapter 1. The High Mountain Conservation in a Changing World

The high mountains have retained a noticeable degree of wilderness even in the most populated regions of the planet. This is the reason why many nature reserves have been established in these landscapes. Currently, climate change and long-range transport of contaminants are affecting those protected areas, and thus conservation priorities may be challenged by these new pressures. In fact, many high mountains hold a legacy of on-site past human activities (e.g., pasturing, forestry, mining), which in some areas may partially persist, even increase, whereas in others are substituted by new uses (e.g., tourism, mountain sport). Therefore, high mountain nature reserves face a challenging future. The conservation goals have to be revised. Former alternative paradigms respectively based on the preservation of wilderness or a traditional cultural landscape will be insufficient. Indeed, global change provides new goals for the high mountain conservation areas as suitable places where to study the nature’s response in the absence of, or combined with, other local pressures. Different branches of sciences may contribute to inform about the changes; however, conservation is ultimately a societal endeavour and thus their goals must be linked to the social demand for a fair society in a sustainable planet. As an added-value to this task, the high mountains hold a large amount of symbolism.
Jordi Catalan, Josep M. Ninot, M. Mercè Aniz

Open Access

Chapter 2. Trade-offs in High Mountain Conservation

High mountain ecosystems present features that determine their conservation: isolation, harsh environmental conditions and steep gradients. The vulnerability of ecological systems to disruptive agents can be addressed by considering exposure to these agents and the sensitivity of the system. Conservation management usually offsets trade-offs of resources allocated to minimise exposure with strategies designed to reduce sensitivity. Although exposure to human action may be reduced in high mountains by isolation, this effect is offset by disruptive agents operating at global or regional scales, such as pollution and climate change. In the long term, climate change can be expected to have a strong impact on alpine habitats, as the dispersal of their native species is severely constrained. Alternatively, high mountains may provide refuges for threatened species currently populating lower altitudes. When reducing exposure is not a feasible strategy, the alternative is to reduce sensitivity, which in high mountains would focus on improving connectivity, preserving habitat quality and controlling antagonistic interactions such as grazing. Lowering vulnerability to climate change requires interventions in various contributing drivers. Cost-effective models make help to optimise the outcome of different goals subject to trade-offs, and they can also be useful for allocating alternative actions over time. The application of ecological trade-off concepts helps to frame conservation from a functional perspective. This approach should also take into account the fact that the functional properties of ecological entities are multifactorial and interactive. This concept is recognised in ecosystem services that present negative correlations—trade-offs—as well as positive ones—synergies.
Francisco Lloret

Developing a Historical Perspective of the High Mountain Social-Ecological System

Frontmatter

Open Access

Chapter 3. Molecular Biogeography of the High Mountain Systems of Europe: An Overview

The biogeography of alpine and arctic–alpine species is complex, much more complex than thought until relatively recently. Alpine species survived glacial periods mostly within refugia in close proximity to the mountains where they are found today. One mountain range can be colonised from several glacial refugia, while one refugium can be the source of colonisation of more than one mountain range. The zonal distributions in the glacial cold steppes are only of importance for arctic–alpine species. Their arctic ranges normally derive from there, while the southern mountains were colonised from there or from near-mountain refugia as in the cases of the alpine species.
Thomas Schmitt

Open Access

Chapter 4. The Beginning of High Mountain Occupations in the Pyrenees. Human Settlements and Mobility from 18,000 cal BC to 2000 cal BC

During the last two decades, the archaeological research carried out in the Pyrenees challenged the traditional images of the past in this mountain area. The archaeological sequence of the range goes back and sites like Balma Margineda, treated until recently as an exception, now are seen as part of more global process. Actual data suggest that main valleys of the Pyrenean frequented by humans at the end of the last glacial period, with sites slightly over 1000 o.s.l. After the Younger Dryas, the human presence ascended to alpine and subalpine areas, in accordance with current archaeological data. The Neolisitation process was early in some hillsides, with intense remains of farming and pastoralism in many sites from dated in the second half of the 6th millennia cal BC. Human settlements like Coro Tracito, Els Trocs and El Sardo confirm the full introduction of agrarian activity in the central part of the Pyrenees between 5300 and 4600 cal BC. After 3500/3300 cal BC the indices oh sheepherding rises to alpine areas, with an abrupt increase of known archaeological sites in alpine areas, above the current timberline. This phenomena, as well as the signs of anthropic disturbance of the alpine environment in sedimentary sequences, suggests a more stable and ubiquitous human presence, probably largely associated with the development of mobile herding practices.
Ermengol Gassiot Ballbè, Niccolò Mazzucco, Ignacio Clemente Conte, David Rodríguez Antón, Laura Obea Gómez, Manuel Quesada Carrasco, Sara Díaz Bonilla

Open Access

Chapter 5. The Role of Environmental Geohistory in High-Mountain Landscape Conservation

Proper management of the perceived value of any geographic space requires the capacity to interpret research results from spatial, temporal, and environmental points of view, applying the principles of environmental geohistory. Basic concepts such as baseline, threshold, or resilience are discussed from a long-term ecological perspective, with examples that explain the dynamics of fir forests as well as the changes in agricultural cover. Studying the changes in the altitudinal limit of the forest and surveying the wetlands dynamics on the southern slopes of the central Catalan Pyrenees have been shown to be effective tools to develop appropriate management tasks. The arguments presented are useful to enrich the public debate over management policies for natural protected spaces in high-mountain areas.
Albert Pèlachs, Ramon Pérez-Obiol, Joan Manuel Soriano, Raquel Cunill, Marie-Claude Bal, Juan Carlos García-Codron

Open Access

Chapter 6. The Multiple Factors Explaining Decline in Mountain Forests: Historical Logging and Warming-Related Drought Stress is Causing Silver-Fir Dieback in the Aragón Pyrenees

The drivers and patterns of drought-related forest dieback are not as well understood in mountain conifer forests. Most studies have obviated the role of historical use as a predisposing factor of forest dieback. Here I focus on the recent silver-fir (Abies alba) dieback observed since the 1980s in the Aragón Pyrenees (NE Spain) as study case. I argue that such dieback was predisposed by past historical logging and incited by warming-induced drought. I analyzed environmental, structural and tree-ring data from 32 sites with contrasting degrees of dieback at the tree and stand levels. I found that a peak in late-summer water deficit observed in 1985 caused a severe growth reduction in 1986, resulting in subsequent crown defoliation, dieback and increased mortality. Dieback was more severe and widespread in western low-elevation mixed forests dominated by smaller trees with low growth rates. These marginal sites receive less late-summer rainfall, which is a key climatic variable controlling silver-fir growth, than eastern sites. Declining sites showed more frequent growth releases induced by historical logging than non-declining sites. Silver-fir growth is becoming more dependent on climatic conditions of previous September, which may be connected with changing modes of atmospheric variability affecting Iberian climate. Historical logging and warming-induced drought stress during late summer are the most likely predisposing and inciting factors driving silver-fir dieback, respectively. A sustainable management of mountain forests shaped by past historical use requires changing their current structure and composition to make them more resilient to climate warming.
J. Julio Camarero

Emerging Values in Mountain Conservation

Frontmatter

Open Access

Chapter 7. Towards a Microbial Conservation Perspective in High Mountain Lakes

Microorganisms are fundamental components to maintain the ecological integrity of any ecosystem. Microscopic organisms have been, however, mostly excluded in conservation studies and microbiology has been developed as a scientific discipline lacking a natural history background. The detailed genetic studies carried out in the Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park and recent works in the mostly scarce literature, show that the mostly oligotrophic and highly diluted waters in high mountain lakes hold a larger microbial phylogenetic uniqueness than expected and are reservoirs of large evolutionary potential, providing an overall natural history perspective for alpine archaea, bacteria, fungi and protists. Microbes arise as an important part of the biological richness of these environments that should be considered as a fundamental component of the natural heritage. Microbial ecologists are now closer than ever to deal with conservation biology concepts such as biological richness, extinction, biotic interactions, and ecosystems management. First insights emerge for establishing the microbial tolerance to different environmental conditions, for estimating which is the potentiality of survival and dispersal abilities in the different species, and for highlighting how the underappreciated microbiota will respond to stresses and disturbances brought by the global change. Warming and eutrophication may jeopardise the most idiosyncratic microbial populations that have found in these (ultra)oligotrophic and diluted systems the most appropriate conditions to thrive. Environmental managers and lawyers, citizen, and stakeholders, in general, have now access to scientifically informed advice for the unseen microbial life in the unexpectedly rich high mountain microbial ecosystems.
Emilio O. Casamayor

Open Access

Chapter 8. Why Should We Preserve Fishless High Mountain Lakes?

High mountain lakes are originally fishless, although many have had introductions of non-native fish species, predominantly trout, and recently also minnows introduced by fishermen that use them as live bait. The extent of these introductions is general and substantial often involving many lakes over mountain ranges. Predation on native fauna by introduced fish involves profound ecological changes since fish occupy a higher trophic level that was previously inexistent. Fish predation produces a drastic reduction or elimination of autochthonous animal groups, such as amphibians and large macroinvertebrates in the littoral, and crustaceans in the plankton. These strong effects raise concerns for the conservation of high mountain lakes. In terms of individual species, those adapted to live in larger lakes have suffered a higher decrease in the size of their metapopulation. This ecological problem is discussed from a European perspective providing examples from two study areas: the Pyrenees and the Western Italian Alps. Species-specific studies are urgently needed to evaluate the conservation status of the more impacted species, together with conservation measures at continental and regional scales, through regulation, and at local scale, through restoration actions, aimed to stop further invasive species expansions and to restore the present situation. At different high mountain areas of the world, there have been restoration projects aiming to return lakes to their native fish-free status. In these areas autochthonous species that disappeared with the introduction of fish are progressively recovering their initial distribution when nearby fish-free lakes and ponds are available.
Marc Ventura, Rocco Tiberti, Teresa Buchaca, Danilo Buñay, Ibor Sabás, Alexandre Miró

Open Access

Chapter 9. Are Soil Carbon Stocks in Mountain Grasslands Compromised by Land-Use Changes?

Mountain grasslands are generally rich in soil organic C, but the typical high spatial variability of mountain environments, together with the different management systems, makes their soil C content particularly variable. Socio-economic changes of the past decades have caused a progressive abandonment of the traditional use for grazing of some areas, while grazing pressure at easily accessible grasslands have increased. Here, we analyse the effect of these land-use changes on the factors regulating the soil C accumulation and stocks. Overgrazing generally leads to a reduction above- and below-ground litter inputs and a decrease in soil C stocks, affecting some soil physicochemical and biological properties. Additionally, the labile C inputs coming from animal faeces may accelerate the mineralisation of organic matter. Grazing abandonment causes a reduction of aboveground productivity, but the lack of consumption causes a short-term accumulation of organic matter. Its effect on belowground biomass and productivity is less clear. At longer term, grazing abandonment causes a change in the plant community composition, having the shrub encroachment the strongest effect on C storage. The low biochemical quality of shrub litter delays its decomposition and allows higher organic matter accumulation in the topsoil. But the effect of shrub proliferation at the deeper soil is less clear. The low root turnover of shrubs compared to grasses may reduce the C inputs to the soil. But, at the same time, the reduction of the root exudates may also reduce the microbial activity and the organic matter mineralisation.
Jordi Garcia-Pausas, Joan Romanyà, Francesc Montané, Ana I. Rios, Marc Taull, Pere Rovira, Pere Casals

Open Access

Chapter 10. The Importance of Reintroducing Large Carnivores: The Brown Bear in the Pyrenees

Large carnivores are keystone species in the ecosystems where they inhabit. Their loss may provoke an imbalance at several levels of the ecosystem. Conservation strategies for existing populations of large carnivores and restoration programmes of disappeared populations can help at maintaining the ecosystem balance and foster the perception links of humans with nature. The case of the restoration of the brown bear population in the Pyrenees during the last 20 years is a successful example of conservation measures carried out to assure the coexistence between this species and the local society, which economy is based on extensive livestock, beekeeping and tourism. In this chapter, I describe the role of large carnivores in mountain ecosystems and the context and development of the of the brown bear in the Catalan Pyrenees as an example of the challenges of large carnivore conservation in a rural context but a high influence from nearby urban areas.
Santiago Palazón

Global Change and High Mountain Conservation

Frontmatter

Open Access

Chapter 11. Life-History Responses to the Altitudinal Gradient

We review life-history variation along elevation in animals and plants and illustrate its drivers, mechanisms and constraints. Elevation shapes life histories into suites of correlated traits that are often remarkably convergent among organisms facing the same environmental challenges. Much of the variation observed along elevation is the result of direct physiological sensitivity to temperature and nutrient supply. As a general rule, alpine populations adopt ‘slow’ life cycles, involving long lifespan, delayed maturity, slow reproductive rates and strong inversions in parental care to enhance the chance of recruitment. Exceptions in both animals and plants are often rooted in evolutionary legacies (e.g. constraints to prolonging cycles in obligatory univoltine taxa) or biogeographic history (e.g. location near trailing or leading edges). Predicting evolutionary trajectories into the future must take into account genetic variability, gene flow and selection strength, which define the potential for local adaptation, as well as the rate of anthropogenic environmental change and species’ idiosyncratic reaction norms. Shifts up and down elevation in the past helped maintain genetic differentiation in alpine populations, with slow life cycles contributing to the accumulation of genetic diversity during upward migrations. Gene flow is facilitated by the proximity of neighbouring populations, and global warming is likely to move fast genotypes upwards and reduce some of those constraints dominating alpine life. Demographic buffering or compensation may protect local alpine populations against trends in environmental conditions, but such mechanisms may not last indefinitely if evolutionary trajectories cannot keep pace with rapid changes.
Paola Laiolo, José Ramón Obeso

Open Access

Chapter 12. Non-equilibrium in Alpine Plant Assemblages: Shifts in Europe’s Summit Floras

Climate warming has been more pronounced in Arctic and alpine areas, and changes in the mountain flora can be expected as the temperature envelope moves upslope. On the one hand, alpine habitats will shrink due to upward migration of species from lower areas, such as trees and tall plants. On the other hand, extinctions of summit plants may be slowed down considerably by the high diversity of microhabitats, the longevity of alpine plants and positive plant–plant interactions in extreme environments. This review chapter attempts to document and monitor vegetation changes on mountain summits. Vegetation surveys that repeat century-old historical vegetation records show considerable upward migration and subsequent increases in species on summits. This trend apparently has accelerated in recent decades. Detailed monitoring of the last decade in European mountain ranges, however, shows that this vegetation change may be at the cost of rare endemic species and alpine specialists in drier Mediterranean regions. This chapter furthermore reviews other factors than temperature influencing alpine vegetation, namely precipitation and snow, nutrients, atmospheric CO2 concentrations and land use. A subsequent question is how threatened mountain flora is by the ongoing environmental changes. Finally, this chapter discusses options for conservation and land use in high-alpine areas.
Christian Rixen, Sonja Wipf

Open Access

Chapter 13. Changes in Climate, Snow and Water Resources in the Spanish Pyrenees: Observations and Projections in a Warming Climate

The Pyrenees constitute one of the greatest sources of freshwater in the Spanish territory, but, like many other mountain systems in the world, they are subject to environmental changes that ultimately affect the availability of water resources in areas downstream. In this study, we offer an assessment of hydrological changes in the Pyrenees, from a warming climate perspective, including climate and snow cover trends, changes in the timing of river flows, and future changes under climate change scenarios. Overall, we found that increasing temperatures are responsible for a lesser accumulation of snow over time, although with spatial differences. As a consequence, the occurrence of spring flows (that largely depend on snowmelt) on the studied rivers, has shifted earlier by approximately one month (from mid-June to mid-May). Future projections, which are made by coupling regional climate models outputs and hydrological modelling, indicate that observed decrease in snow accumulation and shifts in streamflow timing will exacerbate in a warmer short-term future (2050). The amount of water yields will not change significantly, only will suffer a slight decrease due to increased evapotranspiration. Observed and projected hydrological changes must be considered by water managers and environmental technicians if a sustainable management of the water resource and the mountain territory is to be done.
Enrique Morán-Tejeda, Juan Ignacio López-Moreno, Alba Sanmiguel-Vallelado

Open Access

Chapter 14. Atmospheric Chemical Loadings in the High Mountain: Current Forcing and Legacy Pollution

Human emissions have changed the chemistry of atmosphere. Potentially toxic chemicals have been spread, and the global cycles of some key elements have been disrupted. Because enhanced atmospheric precipitation and cold trapping caused by elevation, high mountain ecosystems are considered as regional convergence areas of atmospheric pollutants. In this chapter, research on surface waters acidification, pollution by trace elements, and atmospheric nutrient inputs in the Pyrenees is reviewed. Pyrenean lakes have experienced only a moderate acidification, due partly to an also moderate acid load and partly to the neutralising cations carried by dust. Presently, declining concentrations of sulphate in lakes indicate that recovery is proceeding. Pollution by trace elements dates more than two millennia back. The primary accumulation sites are the sediments of lakes. Soils also hold an important burden, and there is evidence that some elements are being currently remobilised. This is causing a delayed pollution, despite deposition of several trace metals is declining. The emissions of artificial reactive nitrogen have caused increased deposition on the Pyrenean catchments, which are thus nitrogen saturated. A parallel increase of phosphorus deposition has occurred, likely caused by climatic reasons. The combined effect of both seems to be an enhanced uptake of nitrogen by phytoplankton causing a lower nitrogen concentration in lakes and a possible shift from phosphorus-to-nitrogen limitation of phytoplankton growth, as well as an incipient eutrophication. All these are examples of impacts in remote natural areas that require a global strategy of conservation beyond the boundaries of the ecosystems affected.
Lluís Camarero

Open Access

Chapter 15. Importance of Long-Term Studies to Conservation Practice: The Case of the Bearded Vulture in the Pyrenees

Detailed, long-term scientific studies are necessary for conservation purposes, but with the main handicap to have the continual economic support required for them. Behavioural and conservation biology studies need long-term projects to achieve robust data, but managers, administrations and policy-makers need, in most cases, immediate results. Here I show several examples of the research obtained from a long-term study (1987–2014) in one of the most threatened species in Pyrenean mountains, the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), highlighting the importance of such long-term research. The results show how long-term studies are necessary to identify conservation problems, to understand demographic changes on populations and priorities to apply conservation measures. The study’s findings allowed the identification of the negative density-dependent effects on fecundity, the lack of recolonization of new territories outside the current distribution area and the increase in polyandrous trios, suggesting an initial optimal habitat saturation. From a management point of view, the studies show that supplementary feeding sites (SFS) can have detrimental effects on fecundity but increases pre-adult survival. Also, illegal poisoning is increasing, and the demographic simulations suggest a regressive scenario in population dynamics if this factor is not eliminated. More recently, anthropogenic activities through human health regulations that affect habitat quality can suddenly modify demographic parameters. The results obtained about changes in nest-site selection, mating system and demographic parameters can only be achieved through long-term studies, suggesting the importance of long-term research to provide accurate information to managers and policy-makers to optimise the application of conservation measures.
Antoni Margalida

Open Access

Chapter 16. Monitoring Global Change in High Mountains

Long-term ecological research provides essential information to understand the complex dynamics of natural systems. In a global change scenario, high mountains represent an exceptional ecology field lab for long-term research and monitoring, offering an enormous mosaic of ecological conditions existing along mountain slopes. Mountains ecosystems also constitute invaluable observatories of the atmosphere and all the aspects related to climate, atmospheric particle deposition, pollutants, greenhouse gases, or the transport of resistant biological forms. Mountains are sensors for early detection of change. In the Sierra Nevada LTER site (southern Spain), we have been implementing a long-term monitoring programme taking advantage of the high altitude and geographical position of this Mediterranean mountain. We have identified the main expected impacts in the context of global change and analysed the biophysical and socioeconomic data available to assess exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity of ecosystems to future scenarios. The study incorporates a retrospective of past human management of land use, to understand the current state of conservation of the ecosystems and make plausible forecasts on its response to future scenarios. The results show the following: (1) an ancestral human footprint on the ecosystems of Sierra Nevada, particularly evident during the 20th century; (2) a moderate climate warming, with reduction and increased variability in precipitation, as well as a consequent reduction in snow-cover duration during the last few decades; (3) significant changes in biophysical characteristics of rivers and mountain lakes; and (4) shifts in the distribution and phenology of many species of plants and animals along elevation gradients.
Regino Zamora, Antonio J. Pérez-Luque, Francisco J. Bonet
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