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Alien plant species are spreading rapidly in mountainous areas

An ETH Zurich researcher is looking for alien plant species along a mountain road in canton of Wallis, Switzerland. (Photograph: Fiona Schwaller/ETH Zurich)

Many mountain ranges contain semi-​natural habitats experiencing little human interference. They are home to many animal and plant species, some of them endemic and highly specialized. Mountains have also been largely spared by invasions of alien plant species or neophytes.

A new study shows that the pressure of neophytes on mountain ecosystems and their unique vegetation is intensifying worldwide: Invasions of alien plants into higher elevations increased in many of the world's mountains between 2007 and 2017. The study, led by ETH Zurich researchers, has just been published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Researchers observed that the number of alien plant species surveyed in each region has increased by a global average of 16 percent within the past ten years. In addition, in ten out of the eleven mountain regions studied, the scientists found neophytes at significantly higher elevations than ten or even five years ago.

"The current study makes it clear that we need to expand biodiversity monitoring programs worldwide and take action to avert any negative consequences for mountain ecosystems and their flora and fauna," Jake Alexander, senior scientist in the Plant Ecology group at ETH Zurich, emphasizes. "The time to act is now because we can literally see our mountain environments changing."