Alpine biodiversity is especially vulnerable to climate change; warmer temperatures are forecast to cause altitudinal shifts in vegetation zones and vertical advance of the treeline. Such effects will result in a lower area of suitable habitat for high alpine specialists as their optimal habitat becomes increasingly small. In addition, populations on separate high altitude areas will become increasingly fragmented and isolated from one-another as suitable habitat towards the lower end of their altitudinal range becomes unsuitable. For many alpine specialists, mountain tops may be considered as islands separated by unsuitable habitat, and the size and spacing of these can greatly affect the regional occurrence of species. This project will determine the effects of high alpine habitat patch size and isolation on the abundance and species richness of different animal taxa (birds, butterflies and carabids, representing different dispersal abilities) by carrying out surveys in habitat patches representing a gradient of different sizes and levels of isolation, where patches are defined by the treeline and a range of high altitude species of open grassland habitats are surveyed. Effects of fragmentation will be examined by analysing the relationship between species abundance/richness and patch size and isolation. Resulting statistical models will then be used to examine the potential consequences of climate change on alpine communities by considering differing scenarios of altitudinal shifts in vegetation zones. The project will produce predictions of the effects of habitat fragmentation and therefore enable recommendations about the size and location of any protected areas that are designated to ameliorate climate change effects.
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