Research Highlight

Shifting alpine vegetation in Kashmir Himalayas

doi:10.1038/nindia.2020.106 Published online 6 July 2020

The richness of species in the alpine mountain summits of Kashmir Himalayas is a good indicator of vegetation shifting upwards, according to new research1. This supports earlier theories that rise in temperature and reduced precipitation may be triggering the upward migration of alpine species in the Himalayas.

Scientists conducting the study in the Apharwat mountain in Gulmarg area of Jammu & Kashmir say understanding the relationship between biodiversity and climate change is critical for future forecasts on vegetation patterns. Himalayas, with the world’s highest mountain peaks harbouring global biodiversity hotspots of alpine flora, are one of the most climate warming-sensitive regions.

Earlier research2 suggested that warming could change alpine vegetation through the phenomenon of thermophilization – the increased dominance of warm-adapted species and the loss of cold-adapted species.

Researcher Anzar Khuru from the University of Kashmir in Srinagar says that in these warm conditions, plant species specially adapted to cold habitats move upwards or could go extinct locally.

The researchers set out to fill the knowledge gaps due to limited research on warming-induced biodiversity changes in a rapidly warming Himalaya. “We observed an increase in species richness during the re-sampling of the alpine summits.” This is an alarming signal of new thermophilic species establishing themselves at higher summits, and the likelihood of local species being competitively displaced, Khuru says.

The researchers call for more investigation as biodiversity change in the alpine summit ecosystems can have widespread consequences for ecosystem functioning.


References

1. Hamid, M. et al. Early evidence of shifts in alpine summit vegetation: A case study from Kashmir Himalaya. Plant Sci. (2020) doi:10.3389/fpls.2020.00421

2. Pauli, H. et al. Recent plant diversity changes on Europe’s mountain summits. Science 336, 353-355 (2012) doi:10.1126/science.1219033