Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Consequences of abandoning alpine meadows: Scrubs now encroaching on land that had been cultivated for centuries

Date:
December 18, 2012
Source:
Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Foerderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung
Summary:
Agriculture is increasingly vanishing from the Alps. Land that was cultivated for centuries is now being abandoned and scrubs are encroaching on it. This affects not only the landscape, but also the water balance and will in future also have an impact on power generation. These are the conclusions reached by an interdisciplinary research group supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

Green alder slope: when farming is reduced or abandoned entirely, shrubs begin to encroach on arable land that has been cultivated for cen-turies, as can be seen here in the Ursern Valley.
Credit: © Erika Hiltbrunner, Botanical Institute of the University of Basel

Agriculture is increasingly vanishing from the Alps. Land that was cultivated for centuries is now being abandoned and scrubs are encroaching on it. This affects not only the landscape, but also the water balance and will in future also have an impact on power generation. These are the conclusions reached by an interdisciplinary research group supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

The Ursern Valley near Andermatt is in many ways a typical high mountain valley in the Alps. The first inhabitants arrived here around 800 years ago and turned patches of forest into open cultivated land where goats, sheep or cows were able to graze. The sustainable alpine farming that followed for hundreds of years is now on the decline. Sixty years ago there were still over 100 farms in the Ursern Valley; now there are only 30 left. Many of the less accessible pastures on the mountain slopes were abandoned and are now densely covered by alder shrubs.

Phenomenal expansion of green alders

In a large-scale Sinergia research project, plant ecologists, soil experts, hydrologists and economists coordinated by Erika Hiltbrunner and led by Christian Körner from the University of Basel have examined the consequences of farms being abandoned in the higher reaches of the Alpine range*. In the Ursern Valley, it is mainly the green alder that is spreading like wildfire, 2.5 times as fast as the forest in the Swiss Alpine region. The area covered by the green alders has increased by one-fourth in the last ten years alone. This shrub, which is normally found in stream beds and avalanche paths, has now come to dominate the north-facing slopes. If this continues, the green alder will completely cover its potential habitat in the Ursern Valley by 2045.

A million francs lost

The spread of the green alder affects the quality of water because the shrub contaminates the water with nitrates. It also has an impact on water balance: surfaces covered by green alders or long, ungrazed grass release between ten and twenty percent more moisture into the air than grassland on which animals graze. The amount of evaporated water cannot be gauged from the discharge of the Reuss River as the precipitation in the form of rain or snow over a given area cannot be measured accurately in the mountains. However, the steadily decreasing summer discharge during the past 40 years corresponds to the increasing rate of evapotranspiration. An extrapolation of the volume of evaporated water for the entire Ursern Valley suggests that power plants will in future lose between six and eleven gigawatt hours of energy corresponding to half a million and one million Swiss francs per year, depending on the weather.

Landscape preservation with Engadine sheep

"Green alder is invasive. The tactic of simply watching it spread has many downsides and is the worst option we can choose," Körner says. In their project, the researchers have tested another -- more promising -- option: they have led some Engadine sheep up on the affected pastures. "These sheep peel the bark off the green alders and the damaged shrubs subsequently die off because the transportation of sugar from the leaves to the root is blocked or because the root is killed off by parasitic fungi," Körner explains. More sheep of this old, robust breed would be an effective and simple measure to counteract the undesired scrub encroachment in the Alps. However, the economic analysis conducted by the researchers suggests that the added financial value of sustainable land use is not sufficient to keep the arable land open.

* Christian Körner, Erika Hiltbrunner, Christine Alewell, Rolf Weingartner, Frank Krysiak, (associated: Martin Schaffner). VALUrsern Final Report. (2012)


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Foerderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Foerderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung. "Consequences of abandoning alpine meadows: Scrubs now encroaching on land that had been cultivated for centuries." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 December 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121218081620.htm>.
Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Foerderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung. (2012, December 18). Consequences of abandoning alpine meadows: Scrubs now encroaching on land that had been cultivated for centuries. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121218081620.htm
Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Foerderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung. "Consequences of abandoning alpine meadows: Scrubs now encroaching on land that had been cultivated for centuries." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121218081620.htm (accessed August 28, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) — State health officials say testing has confirmed the presence of a killer amoeba in a water system serving three St. John the Baptist Parish towns. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Have Figured Out Why Rocks Move In Death Valley

Scientists Have Figured Out Why Rocks Move In Death Valley

Newsy (Aug. 28, 2014) — The mystery of the moving rocks in Death Valley, California, has finally been solved. Scientists are pointing to a combo of water, ice and wind. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Big Waves, Minor Flooding from Hurricane

Big Waves, Minor Flooding from Hurricane

AP (Aug. 27, 2014) — Thundering surf spawned by Hurricane Marie pounded the Southern California coast Wednesday, causing minor flooding in a low-lying beach town. High surf warnings were posted for Los Angeles County south through Orange County. (Aug. 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Calif. Quake Underscores Need for Early Warning

Calif. Quake Underscores Need for Early Warning

AP (Aug. 26, 2014) — Researchers at UC Berkeley are testing a prototype of an earthquake early warning system that California is pursuing years after places like Mexico and Japan already have them up and running. (August 26) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins