Short-term variation in species richness across an altitudinal gradient of alpine summits
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In response to climate warming, high altitude alpine vegetation may be replaced by typically lower altitude species, as species re-assemble and migrate to new areas. However, empirical evidence showing vegetation change in response to climate warming is largely unavailable for Australian alpine areas. Here, we examine changes in species richness with respect to climate and altitude over a 7 year period at a range of spatial scales in a re-survey of five alpine summits that are part of the Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments monitoring network. Eighty species were recorded in 2011 across all summits, an increase of 6 species since 2004. Mean species richness increased at the whole-of-summit scale from 45 to 50 species (about 12 %). At this scale, the rate of species richness increase was almost one new species per year, with 15 new species recorded at one summit. Here, shrub and graminoid species showed the largest increases. At the smaller spatial scales, changes in species richness were less pronounced. Turnover at the species and community level was typically moderate at all spatial scales and on all summits. The strength and direction of species richness change (the difference in species richness between the two sample periods, +/-) was not related to altitude nor variation in climate. Future re-surveys of the summits will confirm whether these short-term variations in species richness, particularly increases in shrubs, are indeed signals of longer-term trends and interactions with a changing climate.
Biodiversity and Conservation
Global Change Biology