EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Elevation-dependent advance of Alpine plant phenology 

Michael Zehnder1,2, Beat Pfund1,2, Jake Alexander2, Janneke Hille Ris Lambers2, and Christian Rixen1
Michael Zehnder et al.
  • 1WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, 7260 Davos Dorf, Switzerland
  • 2Institute of Integrative Biology, ETH Zurich, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland

Global warming causes increased temperatures and a reduction of snow cover in the European Alps. These rapid environmental changes are more pronounced at higher elevations due to a phenomenon called elevation-dependent warming. As a consequence, alpine plant communities are undergoing severe changes in spring phenology and elevational range shifts. However, long-term in-situ monitoring in these fast-changing ecosystems is scarce and time-consuming. Here, we investigate trends of Alpine plant growth, and phenological shifts over the past 25 years (1998 –2022) using ultrasonic plant height measurements from 32 automatic weather stations from 1500 to 2700 m. Our analysis revealed increased Alpine plant growth and advancing phenology over the past 25 years. At higher elevations, the start and peak of growing season happened approximately one month earlier in 2022 compared to 1998. Yet, this effect was not present at lower elevations, indicating strong patterns of elevation-dependency. The observed changes are more pronounced than previously forecasted and are reflecting findings from remote-sensing studies in other mountain ranges. This study provides compelling evidence of the radical impact of climate change on Alpine vegetation phenology based on a unique long-term measurement series.

How to cite: Zehnder, M., Pfund, B., Alexander, J., Hille Ris Lambers, J., and Rixen, C.: Elevation-dependent advance of Alpine plant phenology , EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-5743,, 2023.