Rare arctic-alpine plants are being driven higher up Scotland’s mountains by climate change and will soon become extinct if we don’t intervene, new research from the University of Stirling has found.
Snow pearlwort, drooping saxifrage and mountain sandwort, which all enjoy a cool climate at high altitude, are retreating up the slopes of the Ben Lawers range in the Highlands.
The rate of decline of snow pearlwort – 66% since the mid-1990s – has led to it being moved from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’ conservation threat status by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI). It is the first ‘vascular’ plant – a grouping that includes flowering plants and ferns – to become endangered due to climate change, the BSBI said. The study found that drooping saxifrage and mountain sandwort have both declined by over 50 per cent.
Sarah Watts, a PhD researcher from the University of Stirling’s Faculty of Natural Sciences and a former seasonal ecologist with the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), has spent 12 years monitoring 10 rare species growing on Ben Lawers alongside NTS staff and volunteers, adding to a data set that goes back 40 years.
Miss Watts said: “Our research signals a rapid loss of biodiversity happening right now which means that, if it’s allowed to continue on this accelerated trajectory, due to climate change, we will see the extinction of species like these. What we are seeing here is range contraction – where species that grow in cold places, in the north and at high altitude, are moving further north and higher up the mountain. But at some point, they’ll have no further to go and will disappear. For example, drooping saxifrage is now only found 50 metres from the top of Ben Lawers.”
Posted On: 13/07/2022