Study: shorter winters threaten Alpine wildlife

Climate change is shortening Alpine winters, a new German study suggested on Thursday, endangering plant species and leaving peaks snowy for less of the year - to the dismay of environmentalists and skiers alike.

Study: shorter winters threaten Alpine wildlife
Photo: DPA

The growing season in the Alps now lasts an average two weeks longer than a century ago, according to a study published on Thursday by the Technical University in Munich.

The harsh winters in the highest peaks are now shorter, with spring arriving earlier and autumn setting in later, said the study, which sought to take a measure of the affects of climate change, pollution and tourism on the German alps.

The changes are set to have a profound affect on indigenous plant species, said project coordinator Annette Menzel. In future the lower peaks could become home to more beech trees than pines.

And, said Menzel, if temperatures continued to rise as expected – an increase of three degrees – mountain pines could soon be growing at the top of Germany’s highest peak.

The glacier gracing the 2,962-metre peak of the Zugspitze mountain will probably disappear in the next twenty years, said the study.

Along with rising average temperatures, tourists, pollution and grazing sheep are also contributing to the damage of the sensitive plants on the high alpine Zugspitze plateau. Hardly any foliage is able to grow along ski pistes, hiking trials or in the areas around mountain shelters and guest houses, said the authors.

And despite exhaust filters and emissions reductions, scientists said air pollution from agriculture and vehicles was still high enough to endanger the diversity of forests and the purity of groundwater.

The study has produced the first detailed vegetation map of the Zugspitze region, which scientists will now use to document long term changes to the area resulting from climate change, tourism and pollution, said Menzel.

DPA/The Local/jlb

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