Edelweiss, the Queen of the Alps, in danger!

Posted on 21 August 2003

Climate change is threatening the survival of sensitive plant species in Europe's alpine regions, such as the world-famous edelweiss.
Vienna, Austria - Climate change is threatening the survival of sensitive alpine species such as the world-famous edelweiss. This is one of the findings of the WWF-supported GLORIA project, a first attempt to systematically document vegetation changes in Europe's alpine regions."The edelweiss and similarly fragile plants are highly endangered," says Stefan Moidl, climate expert at WWF-Austria. "Global warming is changing natural habitats, but alpine plants cannot move to higher, cooler locations. Mountain summits act like traps for such species, which are likely to become extinct if warming continues.” If temperatures rise by a mere 2 degrees celsius, trees and plants are estimated to move 300 to 400 metres higher – however for alpine plants this is not possible. The consequences for the lower summits of the Kalkalpen on the border of Styria and Lower Austria, for example, would be particularly dramatic. Here the tree-line already reaches very close to the summit. Low mountains like Hochschwab, the Rax, and Schneeberg are therefore at high risk of losing a great number of species.The GLORIA project is led by Austrian Professor Georg Grabherr from the University of Vienna. As part of the project, permanent monitoring centres have been established in 20 European mountain regions on 82 summits, from the Lefka Ori in Crete to Latnjajaure in north Scandinavia, and from the Pyrenees to the Urals. The dramatic scale of the loss we may be facing is explained by Professor Grabherr: “A quarter of all flowering plants on the continent are only occurring in high alpine zones. And yet unfragmented alpine zones only make up 3 per cent of Europe´s territory. Plants dwelling in these high regions are a particularly important part of Europe's biological diversity.”The GLORIA project is funded and supported by the EU, the Austrian government, and the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

For more information:

Andrea Paukovits
Head of Media and Campaigns, WWF-Austria
Tel: +43 1 488 17 231Mobile: +43 676 83 488 231
Edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum).
© WWF-Austria