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Ecol Appl. 1993 Aug;3(3):409-416. doi: 10.2307/1941910.

Air-Pollution-Mediated Changes in Alpine Ecosystems and Ecotones.


Soil biological parameters (e.g., Collembola), soil types, soil chemical parameters (pH, humus substances), and plant communities were studied in different ecosystems and ecotones in alpine, subalpine, and spruce forest zones in the Tatra National Park, Slovak Republic. The preliminary, selected data, based on a long-term research program, showed a high sensitivity of some alpine ecotones and ecosystems to long-distance transported acid deposits. The changes in different ecosystem parameters since 1977 were more extensive in alpine grasslands on limestone than on granite. The greatest soil pH decrease was in the plant communities Festucetum versicoloris (-1.5 pH), Geranio-Alchemilletum crinitae (-1.32 pH), and Saxifragetum perdurantis (-1.25 pH), which are restricted to places with snow accumulation and water runoff gullies. In these ecosystems the greatest changes occurred in the leaching of humus substances. Some formerly less abundant and rare soil animals restricted to acid bedrock became dominant in some ecosystems on limestone as well as on granite; other formerly dominant species disappeared from the entire study area (e.g., Folsomia alpina). The aerial extent of some ecosystems changed substantially since 1977, and their surrounding ecotones moved into the space formerly occupied by one of the adjacent ecosystems. These changes are detectable by remote-sensing methods. In Central European mountains, strongly affected by global and regional industrial air pollution (e.g., Krusne Hory, Krkonose, Beskydy), spruce forests started to die back from higher to lower mountain elevations. The effects of air pollution on alpine and subalpine vegetation were not studied there. Strong alterations in alpine ecosystems and ecotones were detected by the author during long-term studies in the High Tatra Mountains, and I suggest that subalpine and mountain forest belts will be affected here in the near future as they were in the more polluted Central European mountains. The ecosystems and ecotones in higher alpine zones are likely to be affected earlier than the ecosystems at lower altitudes. Detection of ecosystem alteration in the alpine zone may be used for prediction of acidification processes and global change in ecosystems at lower altitudes. The consequences of global climate change are predictable by monitoring changes in the extent of some ecosystems located in discrete mountain geomorphological units (e.g., karstic sinkholes, water runoff gullies, wind shadows, ridges exposed to wind, etc.) and ecotones among them because of their dependence on duration of snow cover, water supply, wind and frost exposure, and other abiotic and biotic factors.


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