Climate Change Causes Critical Transitions and Irreversible Alterations of Mountain Forests
New Publication
article written by MRI
27.04.20 | 09:04

While the livelihood of mountain forests is threatened by increasing temperatures brought on by climate change, the topographic complexity of mountain areas (large variation of climate and soils in a small area due to differences in elevation and geographical aspect) might mitigate this impact, creating a natural protective buffer between the landscape and global warming. The degree of damage climate change may cause to mountain forests and the potential to reverse the damage, however, merits further research.

 In a recent peer-reviewed article of Global Change Biology published online on 17 April 2020 titled ‘Climate change causes critical transitions and irreversible alterations of mountain forests,’ authors Katharina Albrich, Werner Rammer, and Rupert Seidl chose a mountain forest landscape in the Eastern Alps to investigate its resilience to climate change with a computer simulation model.

“Mountain forests are of particular interest because mountain regions are warming faster than the global average and organisms in mountain regions are strongly temperature-limited,” says Albrich. “This could make mountain forests vulnerable to drastic changes in their composition, structure and function.”

They found a change in the makeup of the forests (conifer-dominated landscapes giving way to smaller, broadleaved trees) and that the complex mountain topography (e.g. large differences in elevation) tempered the effects of climate change. When testing the forests’ capacity to recover from climate change damage, however, they found that forests did not return to their initial state even after thousands of years, especially in climate change scenarios with lower precipitation.  

“We found large changes in forest structure and function already at +2°C relative to historic climate. This means that even if current climate policy goals are reached, mountain forests could face large changes in their structure and species composition and therefore the ecosystem services they provide,” says Albrich. 

See the Article


Albrich K, Rammer W, Seidl R (2020). ‘Climate change causes critical transitions and irreversible alterations of mountain forests.’ Global Change Biology.

This article has been accepted for publication and undergone full peer review but has not been through the copyediting, typesetting, pagination and proofreading process, which may lead to differences between this version and the Version of Record. Please cite this article as doi:10.1111/gcb.15118.

Photo by Pixabay user domelaci