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Changes in snow cover threaten the biodiversity of Arctic nature

The long-lasting snowfall disappears in the northern mountains ̵ 1; will snowflakes (Ranunculus nivalis) and other Arctic and mountain plants…



The long-lasting snowfall disappears in the northern mountains ̵

1; will snowflakes (Ranunculus nivalis) and other Arctic and mountain plants follow? Credit: Julia Kemppinen

Many of the plants living in the northern mountains depend on the snow cover that lasts until late spring or summer. Snow provides protection for plants from winter events, but at the same time shortens the length of the growing season, which prevents the establishment of more southern plants. Therefore, the reduced snow cover can be an even greater threat to the arctic plants than rising temperatures.

In a study published in the famous scientific journal Nature Climate Change researchers from the University of Helsinki and the Finnish Environment Institute analyzed how expected changes in temperature and snow storage will affect the risk of extinction in northern flora. The results show that many plant species can benefit from a warmer climate, but the fast-slanted snowdrop can irradiate a large part of the typical flora typical of the northern mountains. Many of these species are already threatened, which makes their conservation an urgent challenge.

“Although the importance of snow is widely known, winter conditions are often ignored when studying the northern and mountainous areas,” says Pekka Niittynen, PhD student from the University of Helsinki.

Remote Sensing and Satellite Image Help

Collecting data in winter used to be very difficult, but remote sensing and satellite imagery have enabled detailed monitoring of snow coverage since the 1980s. .

By means of remote sensing and species distribution models, we showed that winter has a tremendous significance for the northern nature and its organisms future, says Niittynen.

Many arctic and mountain plants are specialized in growing and blooming during a very short summer. If the snowfall’s duration is shortened and the summers prolong, more southern species can benefit and compete with the Arctic species for extinction.

According to researchers, the climate changes in northern areas more rapidly than in the rest of the world, and these changes are particularly powerful during the winter. This makes the current results more significant.

Difficult to predict the effect of heating on snow cover

“We are worried that we do not know exactly how the snow will change as the climate is warmed up, we can predict the temperature properly, but it is For example, snow in Siberia may increase due to more precipitation in winter, but snow cover length in the northern countries is expected to be much shorter, says Pekka Niittynen.

“Our results shows that future changes in northern species populations can be steep and give rise to ecological surprises that are difficult to predict, such as rapid eradication of populations in certain places and invasion of flexible species in new places, “says senior researcher Risto Heikkinen from the Finnish Environment Institute. [19659005] Glacier butter and other arctic and m ountain plants need thick snakes

“Many iconic species in the arctic regions, such as the glacier butter, will decrease significantly due to the rapid snow situation,” says Miska Luoto, professor of natural geography from the University of Helsinki

. Many of the species in the northern mountains only enjoys snowy areas.

“Declining drives increase the risk of eradication to plants such as snowflakes, mountain syrup and moss plants.”

The recently published Research focuses on plants, moss and lichens, but the results are likely to apply to many other organisms in the Arctic. Many of the Arctic species are threatened by eradication if the species that are dependent on snow do not have any suitable areas nearby where the snow cover will remain on the ground for a long time in the future. The possibilities of adapting to changes in snow coverage in arctic areas can be few in practice. Therefore, mitigating action against climate change is important for the conservation of northern nature.


Explore further:
Exceptionally large amount of winter snow in the northern hemisphere this year

More information:
Pekka Niittynen et al. Snow cover is a neglected driver of loss of arctic biodiversity, Natural climate change (2018). DOI: 10,1038 / s41558-018-0311-x

Journal Reference:
Nature Climate change

Provided by:
University of Helsinki

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