The Response of Alpine Plants to Environmental Change: Feedbacks to Ecosystem Function

  • William D. Bowman
Part of the Advances in Global Change Research book series (AGLO, volume 23)


Alpine ecosystems occur on all continents, and potentially serve as sensitive indicators of biotic response to environmental change. Because environmental change associated with resource extraction and development is minimal in most alpine areas, biotic changes in the alpine are reflective of “indirect” anthropogenic environmental effects, including changes in climate, atmospheric chemistry, and transmission of ultraviolet radiation. Plant species respond differentially to these environmental changes, related in part to their ability to alter growth rates as resource supply changes and to changes in biotic interactions with neighbors (Theodose and Bowman 1995; Callaway et al. 2002). Thus, changes in plant species composition are likely to herald environmental change in the alpine. Floristic changes have been noted in some alpine areas, potentially associated with climate change (Grabherr et al. 1994), atmospheric pollution (Rusek 1992), and increased N deposition (Korb and Ranker 2001; see Baron et al., this volume for aquatic biotic responses to N deposition).


Alpine Biotic change Nitrogen deposition Plant influences on nutrient cycling Rocky Mountains 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Baron, J. S., Ojima, D. S., Holland, E. A., and Parton, W. J. (1994). Analysis of nitrogen saturation potential in Rocky Mountain tundra and forest: Implications for aquatic systems. Biogeochemistry 28, 1–31.Google Scholar
  2. Bowman, W. D., and Steltzer, H. (1998). Positive feedbacks to anthropogenic nitrogen deposition in Rocky Mountain alpine tundra. Ambio 27, 514–517.Google Scholar
  3. Callaway, R. M., Brooker, R. W., Choler, P., Kikvidze, Z., Lortie, C. J., Michalet, R., Paolini, L., Pugnaire, F. L., Newingham, B., Aschehoug, E. T., Armas, C., Kikodze, D., and Cook, B. J. (2002). Positive interactions among alpine plants increase with stress. Nature 417, 844–848.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Diggle, P. K. (1997). Extreme preformation in alpine Polygonum viviparum: An architectural and developmental analysis. American Journal of Botany 84, 154–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Grabherr, G., Gottfried, M., and Pauli, H. (1994). Climate effects on mountain plants. Nature 369, 448–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Korb J. E., and Ranker, T. A. (2000). Changes in stand composition and structure between 1981 and 1996 in four Front Range plant communities in Colorado. Plant Ecology 157, 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Neff, J. C., Townsend, A. R., Gleixner, G., Lehman, S. J., Turnball, J., and Bowman, W. D. (2002). Variable effects of nitrogen additions on the stability and turnover of soil carbon. Nature 419, 915–917.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Onipchenko, V. G., Makarov, M. I., and van der Maarel, E. (2001). Influence of alpine plants on soil nutrient concentrations in a monoculture experiment. Folia Geobotanica 36, 225–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Rusek, J. (1992). Air pollution-mediated changes in alpine ecosystems and ecotones. EcologicalApplications 3, 409–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Steltzer, H., and Bowman, W. D. (1998). Differential influence of plant species on soil N transformations within moist meadow alpine tundra. Ecosystems 1, 464–474.Google Scholar
  11. Strengbom, J., Nordin, A., Näsholm, T., and Ericson, L. (2001). Slow recovery of boreal forest ecosystem following decreased nitrogen input. Functional Ecology 15, 451–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Theodose, T. A., and Bowman, W. D. (1997). The influence of interspecific competition on the distribution of an alpine graminoid: Evidence for the importance of plant competition in an extreme environment. Oikos 79, 101–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Van der Krift, T. A. J., and Berendse, F. (2001). The effect of plant species on soil nitrogen mineralization. Journal of Ecology 89, 555–561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Walker, M. D., Webber, P. J., Arnold, E. A., and Ebert-May, D. (1994). Effects of interannual climate variation on aboveground phytomass in alpine vegetation. Ecology 75, 393–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Williams, M. W., and Tonnessen, K. A. (2000). Critical loads for inorganic nitrogen deposition in the Colorado Front Range, USA. Ecological Applications 10, 1648–1665.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • William D. Bowman
    • 1
  1. 1.Mountain Research Station, Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and Environmental, Population and Organismic BiologyUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA

Personalised recommendations