Biodiversity Hotspot Alps

 

Threats to Biodiversity

Remoteness from human infrastructure and activity is becoming increasingly rare. About 14 million people live in the Alpine region and the Alps are one of the most visited areas in the world. This does not remain without any impact on biodiversity.
The loss or destruction of habitats is the most direct threat to biodiversity. At least 8500 species of invertebrates can be found in Carinthia; 33% of them are endangered by the loss or destruction of their habitat. In the German Alps, a considerable number of species is extinguished or is highly threatened such as the Carex species Carex microglochin, once common in the Pulvermoos region. This plant has not been sighted since decades and had to be declared extinct in Germany (BUND NATURSCHUTZ IN BAYERN 2004).

Besides the already mentioned intensification of the agricultural practices especially at the bottoms of the valleys, other major threats to the biological diversity are the growing urbanisation and the fragmentation of landscapes and habitats caused by the development of human infrastructures (roads, railways, cities, industrial areas, etc.). The traditional annual migrations of deer between their summer and winter habitats have been totally cut off in some areas. This obliges the animals to withdraw to less adequate habitats where they can cause damage to forests. Another well-known example is the annual migration of amphibians to their spawn site, an event that turns to road massacre every year.

The growing demand for leisure and sport activities in the area can also lead to a negative impact on biodiversity (disturbance of birds during their breeding period, disturbance of the sensible Alpine fauna during the winter, damages caused by quads and motorbikes, impacts of ski stations, etc.).

Invasive plants are a more recent phenomenon, but take a growing importance. These plant and animal species were introduced as ornamental plants, pets or because of some specific characteristics. Some of them are now spreading and take over the habitats of local varieties bit by bit, displacing or eliminating them. The Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) for example is a plant that originates in North America. It ranks among the most aggressive invasive plants in the Canton Tessin in Switzerland and it can cause strong allergic reactions.

The global climate change is an additional threat to biodiversity. Even if it is difficult to predict the exact impacts of the changes, it can be assumed that mountain regions will be affected at a greater level than plains. The changes are taking place at great speed, leaving local species only few possibilities to adapt themselves to the changes. The Alpine flora reacts to the global warming and migrates upwards. More plant species may be found on the highest mountain summits than a 100 years ago. The specialised species growing at high altitudes are replaced by more competitive species from lower regions.
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Further Readings & Links

BUWAL (2004)
A description of the threats to biodiversity and the Swiss response to biodiversity loss.