Studies suggest that climate change could directly threaten the biodiversity of the Pyrenees and reduce vascular plant life by one third or even half (due to the disappearance or drastic reduction of habitat). For this reason, precise and early detection of how climate change affects the natural environment, and possibilities for defining adaptation measures at a local scale, is a priority of utmost importance.
Work carried out under the ‘Biodiversity’ line of action shall serve to implement future indicators of climate change impact on biodiversity. Given the immense expanse of possible research fields related to biodiversity, the OPCC has decided to first devote its efforts to plant diversity in the Pyrenees (although its conclusions might be extrapolated to animal diversity).
In this way, project actions shall put a veritable network into place to track the effects of climate change on vascular plant life in the Pyrenees with the aim of detecting the most relevant indicator species.
It should be noted that the Pyrenees are home to large areas of endemic plant life (i.e. biological groups only present within the Pyrenees and neighbouring mountains) that are likely to be affected by these changes.
The aim is to establish a tracking network for vascular plant life species and populations in the Pyrenees in order to detect the effects of climate change and develop possible control and adaptation measures.
- relate and match existing databases for vascular plant life on French and Spanish sides;
- identify plant diversity in terms of species numbers; create geographic distribution maps for each species in the Pyrenees;
- data modelling, internet database platform, and geographic distribution for each taxon;
- maps associated with the database (synthesis maps of focal points – hotspots – for plant life diversity in the Pyrenees);
- cartographic identification of stations to be studied to carry out the action;
- temporal tracking of Salix herbacea populations;
- inform and instil the scientific community and general public with the results.
All information collected on plant diversity shall be shared on the OPCC Geoportal (web platform ‘ad hoc’) for scientific, management and land use, cultural, educational, and outreach purposes.
With the preliminary results, action partners have already identified an indicator species likely to be greatly affected by climate change that inhabits the Pyrenean snowbeds (small high-altitude depressions where snow persists longer than elsewhere): the Dwarf Willow (Salix herbacea).
Main stages of action within the OPCC framework include:
1. Identify and select criteria to set study perimeter.
2. Develop a computerized cartographic base that displays plant life distribution in the Pyrenees.
3. Define an information sheet for each species (metadata).
4. Define some common taxonomic criteria and a bibliography.
5. Develop a provisional reference list (check-list) for all vascular plant life present in the perimeter defined in point 1.
6. Data migration and functional integration (previously computerized and new data).
7. Maintain and update information on plant life.
8. Develop a monitoring protocol for vegetation in the Pyrenees snowfields.
9. Select snowfields to be studied and begin tracking efforts.
10. Validate tracking protocol for vegetation in the Pyrenees snowfields.
11. Prepare and digitally revise information sheets for each species (3500-4000).
12. Identify and select indicator species and the most relevant populations; track Salix herbacea populations (state of the site and annual follow-up).
13. Draft, edit, and correct distribution maps for vascular plant life in the Pyrenees and collect data on common names.
14. Analyse plant groups to select plants of special interest for conservation and indicators of habitat conservation.
15. Mark off and map areas of ecological interest and evaluate wilderness areas (especially Natura 2000 Network SAC and SCI).
16. Publish results in specialised and popular scientific journals, at conferences on the Pyrenees, and on partner websites.
Climate change indicators (within OPCC framework)
Changes in spatial distribution of taxa in terms of geography and altitude:
The creation of distribution maps for approximately 3,500 plant species in the Pyrenees shall serve to track their evolution in future years and, when applicable, detect population disappearance or extinction. In a mountainous region like the Pyrenees, populations are expected to shift to higher altitudes in response to predicted warming.
Scarcity and loss of high-altitude plants:
200 endemic plants live in the Pyrenees, most of which are adapted to the high mountain climate. Their existence is threatened by a decrease or change in habitat caused by the effects of climate change.
Changes in the distribution (expansion or decline) of the Dwarf Willow and associated plants and fungi communities, characteristic of snowbed vegetation:
Snowbed vegetation is only conditioned by abiotic, substrate, topography, and snow cover factors, and suffers very little from human influences. It can also be very sensitive to climate change.
The National Botanical Conservatory of the Pyrenees and the Midi-Pyrenees (CBNMP) shall coordinate action on the north side and the IHOBE shall be responsible for the south side.
Other organizations shall also contribute their skills as associated partners:
- Botanical Institute of Barcelona (IBB)
- University of Barcelona (UB)
- Pyrenean Institute of Ecology (IPE)
- National Mediterranean Botanical Conservatory (CBN)
- Midi-Pyrenees Nature Association (NMP)
- Pyrenees National Park (PNP)
- Centre d'Estudis de la Neu i la Muntanya d'Andorra (CENMA)
• IHOBE - Département de l'Environnement, Planification territoriale, Agriculture et Pêche, Gouvernement Basque
• National Botanical Conservatory of the Pyrenees and the Midi-Pyrenees