A common soil temperature threshold for the upper limit of alpine grasslands in European mountains

Bürli, Sarah; Theurillat, Jean-Paul; Winkler, Manuela; Lamprecht, Andrea; Pauli, Harald; Rixen, Christian; Steinbauer, Klaus; Wipf, Sonja; Abdaladze, Otar; Andrews, Christopher ORCID:; Barančok, Peter; Benito-Alonso, José Luis; Fernández Calzado, Maria Rosa; Carranza, Maria Laura; Dick, Jan ORCID:; Erschbamer, Brigitta; Ghosn, Dany; Gigauri, Khatuna; Kazakis, George; Mallaun, Martin; Michelsen, Ottar; Moiseev, Dmitry; Moiseev, Pavel; Molau, Ulf; Molero Mesa, Joaquín; Morra di Cella, Umberto; Nadeem, Imran; Nagy, Laszlo; Nicklas, Lena; Palaj, Andrej; Pedersen, Bård; Petey, Martina; Puşcaş, Mihai; Rossi, Graziano; Stanisci, Angela; Tomaselli, Marcello; Unterluggauer, Peter; Ursu, Tudor-Mihai; Villar, Luis; Vittoz, Pascal. 2021 A common soil temperature threshold for the upper limit of alpine grasslands in European mountains. Alpine Botany, 131 (1). 41-52.

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While climatic research about treeline has a long history, the climatic conditions corresponding to the upper limit of closed alpine grasslands remain poorly understood. Here, we propose a climatic definition for this limit, the ‘grassline’, in analogy to the treeline, which is based on the growing season length and the soil temperature. Eighty-seven mountain summits across ten European mountain ranges, covering three biomes (boreal, temperate, Mediterranean), were inventoried as part of the GLORIA project. Vascular plant cover was estimated visually in 326 plots of 1 × 1 m. Soil temperatures were measured in situ for 2–7 years, from which the length of the growing season and mean temperature were derived. The climatic conditions corresponding to 40% plant cover were defined as the thresholds for alpine grassland. Closed vegetation was present in locations with a mean growing season soil temperature warmer than 4.9 °C, or a minimal growing season length of 85 days, with the growing season defined as encompassing days with daily mean ≥ 1 °C. Hence, the upper limit of closed grasslands was associated with a mean soil temperature close to that previously observed at the treeline, and in accordance with physiological thresholds to growth in vascular plants. In contrast to trees, whose canopy temperature is coupled with air temperature, small-stature alpine plants benefit from the soil warmed by solar radiation and consequently, they can grow at higher elevations. Since substrate stability is necessary for grasslands to occur at their climatic limit, the grassline rarely appears as a distinct linear feature.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Biodiversity (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 1664-2201
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: alpine life zone, GLORIA, growing season, plant–climate interactions, soil temperature, vascular plants
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 23 Mar 2021 15:19 +0 (UTC)

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