Working to Conserve and Protect the Alpine Environment of North America

North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Alpine Plant Conservation

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Alpine Strategy

North American Botanic Garden
Strategy for Alpine Plant Conservation

Our Mission #1

To encourage plant conservation organizations to contribute to the collective goal of conserving North American alpine plants and their habitats.

Our Mission #2

Provide a framework for North American botanic gardens to address the environmental and climate change challenges facing alpine ecosystems.

Our Mission #3

Highlight the critical role that botanic gardens can play in research, conservation, and education.

What is the Alpine?

Broadly defined, the alpine is the area above treeline. The common ingredient for alpine ecosystems the world over is cold. The growing season is short, and frost can occur at any time, with nighttime temperatures  . . . 

Threats to the Alpine

While not as threatened by habitat loss and human activity as many other plant communities, the alpine environment appears to be particularly threatened by climate change. According to a 2019 special report by the United Nations . . .

The Alpine Strategy

The Alpine Strategy is a blueprint for protecting alpine plants and ecosystems in the United States, Canada and Mexico, focusing on the role of botanic gardens in this effort. The strategy is based on two . . . 

Our Story

The North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Alpine Plant Conservation (Alpine Strategy) is a blueprint for protecting alpine plants and ecosystems in the United States, Canada and Mexico, focusing on the role of botanic gardens in this effort. The strategy is based on two existing templates – The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC),1 The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. Richmond (UK): Botanic Gardens Conservation International; 2002. (accessed 2020 Feb 21) https://www.bgci.org/policy/gspc/ first approved at the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2002, updated for the years 2011-20202 The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation 2011-2020. Richmond (UK): Botanic Gardens Conservation Inter- national; 2011. [accessed 2020 Feb 21] https://www.publicgardens.org/resources/global-strategy-plant-conservation-2011-2020 and the North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Plant Conservation (North American Strategy), written in 2006 and updated in 2016.3 North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Plant Conservation, 2016-2020. Illinois (USA): Botanic Gardens Conservation International, U.S.; 2016. [accessed 2020 Feb 21] http://northamericanplants.org/wp-content/up- loads/2016/05/NAGSPC.pdf

The alpine zone encompasses vegetation above the natural high altitude treeline.4 Körner C. Alpine Plant Life: Functional Plant Ecology of High Mountain Ecosystems. Berlin: Springer, 2007. p.7. Plants that inhabit the North American alpine zone are vulnerable to climate change. According to a 2019 special report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Land, anthropogenic warming is projected to shift climate zones poleward and upward in regions of higher elevation. Worldwide, mean land surface air temperature has increased 1.53oC from 1850–1900 to 2006–2015. The report also states that desertification is expected to increase in semi-arid to arid drylands, including the U.S. Southwest that contains the Rocky Mountain alpine ecosystems. The result will be to lower ecosystem health, including losses in biodiversity. Invasive species are also likely to be aggravated by climate change.5 Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. Shukla PR, Skea J, Calvo Buendia E, Masson-Delmotte V, Pörtner HO, Roberts DC, Zhai P, Slade R, Connors S, van Diemen R, M. Ferrat M, et al., editors. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2019. In press; p. 7, 50, 183-4, 271-2, 297. [accessed 2020 Feb 25] https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2019/11/SRCCL-Full-Report-Compiled-191128.pdf
There is evidence of more amplified warming at higher elevations.6 Pepin N, Bradley RS, Diaz HF, Baraer M, Caceres EB, Forsythe N, Fowler H, Greenwood, G, Hashmi MZ, Liu XD, et al. Elevation-dependent warming in mountain regions of the world. Nature Climate Change. 2015;5:424-430. [accessed 2020 Feb 21] https://www.nature.com/articles/nclimate2563 Significant altitudinal amplification trends were found for mountain locations in the U.S. Rockies and Appalachian Mountains as well as the Asian Tibetan, Loess, Yunnan-Guizhou and Mongolian Plateaus, the Alps of Europe, and the South American Andes.7 Wang Q, Fan X, Wang M. Recent warming amplification over high elevation regions across the globe. Climate Dynamics. 2014;43:87-101. [accessed 2020 Feb 21] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00382-013-1889-3
NOAA data indicate that the American West has become 1.4o C warmer over the 100 period from 1908-2007, more than 0.5o C higher than the planet as a whole.8
Saunders S, Montgomery C, Easley T, Spencer, T. Hotter and Drier: The West’s Changed Climate. 2008. [accessed 2020 Feb 21] https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/west.pdf

A 100-year study of temperature trends in Western Montana, which includes some Rocky Mountain alpine ecosystems, finds that the rise in extremes and seasonal averages has been two to three times greater than that of the global average.9 Pederson GT, Graulich LJ, Fagre,DB, Kipfer T, Muhlfeld CC 2010. A century of climate and ecosystem change in Western Montana: what do temperature trends portend? Climate Change. 2010;98:133-154. [accessed 2020 Feb 21] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-009-9642-y At two high elevation sites in Colorado, temperatures increased an average of 1.2o C per decade over the period from 1983 – 2007.10 Clow DW. Changes in the Timing of Snowmelt and Streamflow in Colorado: A Response to Recent Warming. Journal of Climate. 2010;23:2293-2306 [accessed 2020 Feb 21] https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/full/10.1175/2009JC- LI2951.1
Scientific observations have found that alpine species abundance, richness, and distribution have been impacted by warming temperatures, resulting in altered patterns of alpine vegetation.11 Pauli H, Gottfried M, Grabherr G.The Piz Linard (3411 m), The Grisons, Switzerland – Europe’s Oldest Mountain Study Site. In: Nagy L, Grabherr G, Körner C, Thompson DBA, editors. Alpine Biodiversity in Europe, 167. Berlin: Springer-Verlag; 2003. p. 443 – 448 For example, 867 vegetation samples from 60 alpine sites in Europe show a decline in cold-adapted and an increase in warm-adapted species.12 Gottfried M, Pauli H, Futschik A, Akhalkatsi M, Barančok P, Alonso JLB, Coldea G, Dick J, Erschbamer B, Calzado MRF, et al. Continent-wide response of mountain vegetation to climate change. Nature Climate Change. 2012 [accessed 2020 Feb 25]. https://www.nature.com/articles/nclimate1329 Research in the Italian Alps has found 52 alpine species to have upwardly mi- grated 23.9 meters/decade.13 Parolo G, Rossi G. Upward migration of vascular plants following a climate warming trend in the Alps. Basic and Applied Ecology. 2008;9,100–107. [accessed 2020 Feb 21]. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/ S1439179107000126 There has also been an observed 31-65% decline in abundance of arctic-alpine indicator species being monitored in Glacier National Park, Montana from 1989-2002.14 Lesica P, McCune, B. Decline of arctic-alpine plants at the southern margin of their range following a decade of climatic warming. Journal of Vegetation Science. 2004;15:679-690. [accessed 2020 Feb 21] https://onlinelibrary. wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1654-1103.2004.tb02310.x

The Alpine Strategy provides a framework for North American botanic gardens to address the environmental and climate change chal- lenges facing alpine ecosystems. It highlights the critical role that botanic gardens can play in research, conservation, and education. The Strategy is intended to encourage plant conservation organizations to contribute to the collective goal of conserving North American alpine plants and their habitats. Additionally, it fosters collaborative rela- tionships among nations in North America, as plant conservation is often not as effective when separated by international boundaries.3 The Alpine Strategy is intended for use by not only botanic gardens, but natural history museums, universities, governments, native
plant societies, and any other organization interested in preserving the natural heritage and ecological integrity of alpine zones in North America.
Plant Conservation Efforts
The botanical community is increasingly working to conserve plants and their habitats in the face of continuing loss of plant diversity. Worldwide, between 60,000 and 100,000, or one-third of all plants, are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation.1,15 Strategies to address this plant extinction crisis by the

botanical community began at the international level with national and regional strategies soon joining global efforts.
The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC)2 is the hallmark
of global plant conservation strategies. It was adopted in 2002 by the Convention on Biological Diversity and updated in 2012 to bring both awareness and a framework for policy and action to address threats faced by plants worldwide. The GSPC provides concrete global goals and objectives for plant conservation while also encouraging individ- ual nations to develop their strategies to support the overall protection effort. This emphasis resulted in the North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Plant Conservation in 2006, updated in 20163, that laid the foundation for the protection of plants in North America.
Motivated by concern for alpine plants and their stewardship, representatives of a diverse group of botanic gardens (Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, Denver Botanic Gardens, the Canadian Botanic Gardens, Botanic Gardens Conservation International, and the Memorial University of Newfoundland) and the United States Forest Service joined together in 2010 to specifically address the conservation of alpine plants in North America. Its completion is presently being led by Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and Denver Botanic Gardens.
The more specific emphasis on alpine habitats of the Alpine Strategy is considered within the broader frameworks of the GSPC and North American Strategy and is seen as complementary to their goals and objectives. The Alpine Strategy notably places a stronger emphasis on in-situ conservation as a higher priority for alpine species, supported by ex-situ efforts because of the anticipated impacts on natural habitats from climate change and other environmental factors.

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American Pika

The American Pika

(Photo by Gerhard Assenmacher)

The American pika (Ochotona princeps) is a small mammal that lives exclusively in the alpine and is dependent on it for its survival. The pika is closely related to rabbits and hares, thriving above treeline in rocky, mountainous habitats of talus and scree fields with nearby alpine meadows. Their frequent shrill calls are usually the first indication that one is nearby, using the calls to alert others to the presence of danger. American pikas are generalized herbivores, feeding on alpine plants and selecting their forage based on its nutritional value. They are well known for haying – collecting plants during growing seasons and caching them in large haypiles. The haypiles are moved into burrows to serve as a winter food source, with up to 30 species of plants in a single haypile. Long-term population trends of pikas are being studied to assess how the species responds to a warming climate, with many popula- tions showing documented declines in number. Protecting the alpine means protecting the whole ecosystem, including these furry creatures that depend on the alpine to survive.

CASE STUDY

Objective 2. Target 9.

American Pika

Collections for Conservation at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens

Penstemon debilis. Photo Todd Winslow Pierce

Situated at 8,200’ (2,500m) elevation in the southern Rocky Mountains, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is uniquely positioned to conserve alpine biodiversity in ex-situ collections, and currently has more than 3,000 species in its gardens from high elevation ecosystems all over the world, including more than 700 rare and threatened species. One of the most valuable and rare species is Penstemon debilis, Parachute Penstemon, a critically imperiled species endemic to Garfield County, CO. Only five populations remain in the wild, and they are at high risk of damage from oil and gas development. Betty Ford Alpine Gardens partnered with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to conduct census surveys, collect seed, and propagate this special plant to grow in the Gardens.This ex-situ collection helps to keep P. debilis from going extinct even if its habitat is further disturbed. About 80,000 species, or 30% of the world’s plants, are grown in ex-situ collections in botanic gardens and arboreta, an important repository of diversity.

Objectives

1. Understand & Document Alpine Plant Diversity

2. Conserve Alpine Plants & their Habitats

3. Promote Awareness of the Alpine Ecosystem & Plant Diversity through Education & Outreach

4. Build Capacity for the Conservation of Alpine Plant Species & Associated Habitats

Understand & Document Alpine Plant Diversity

Objective 1

TARGET 1. Develop a working map of all North American alpine areas by 2022.
TARGET 2. Create a list of all known alpine plants of North America that highlights alpine plants

whose conservation status is ranked G1/T1 – G3/T3 by 2022.
TARGET 3. Assess land management designations for all North American alpine habitats by 2023.

TARGET 4. Provide online access to floristic inventories and research on North American alpine plants to minimize gaps in knowledge by 2030.

Conserve Alpine Plants & their Habitats

Objective 2

TARGET 5. Protect 50 percent of the most Important Plant Areas (IPAs) for alpine plant conservation in North America by 2030.

TARGET 6. Conserve at least 25 percent of all identified North American alpine flora in-situ by 2030. TARGET 7. Conserve 60 percent of threatened alpine plant species in North America in-situ by 2030.

TARGET 8. Conserve 60 percent of all identified alpine plant species in North America ex-situ by 2030.

TARGET 9. Ensure that at least 75 percent of all identified threatened North American alpine plant species are held in ex-situ collections, and 10 percent are in recovery and/or restoration programs by 2030.

Promote Awareness of the Alpine Ecosystem & Plant Diversity through Education & Outreach

Objective 3

TARGET 10. Incorporate the irreplaceable value of the North American alpine ecosystem and plant diversity into educational and public awareness programs at botanic gardens by 2025.

Build Capacity for the Conservation of Alpine Plant Species & Associated Habitats

Objective 4

TARGET 11. Increase the number of trained professionals working on North American alpine plant conservation to address local, regional and national needs by 2030.

TARGET 12. Establish and strengthen networks, partnerships, associations and stakeholders for alpine conservation activities at regional, national and international levels by 2030.

Our Work

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens Projects

Outline our work and projects with a picture and brief description and an option to read more.

Denver Botanic Gardens Projects

Same as for BFAG

Opportunities for Collaboration

List of projects

Alpine Strategy Network

This will lead to the same page as in About

CASE STUDY

Objective 1. Target 4.

American Pika

Using Herbarium Records to Track Climate Change in the Alpine

Hufft, R. A., M. E. DePrenger-Levin, R. A., Levy, and M. B. Islam. 2018. Using herbarium specimens to select indicator species for climate change monitoring. Biodiversity Conservation 27: 1487-1501.

Phenology, the timing of biological events, is recognized as one of the best indicators of biological responses to climate change. Using observations of plant phenology, like the timing of flowering, we can track how plants have responded to climate change and predict future changes in plant communities. While we regularly record phenological measurements to understand seasonal and recent phenological patterns, at Denver Botanic Gardens we use herbarium specimens to look back in time and measure how plant phenology has changed over

longer periods. Our 2018 publication “Using Herbarium Specimens to Select Indicator Species for Climate Change Monitoring,” explains our process of doing so. Studying species in Colorado’s alpine areas, we analyzed herbarium specimen data to look at flowering time over the course of a 61-year period and its relationship to temperature and precipitation. We found that, on average, species that showed earlier bloom times than in previous years bloomed 39 days earlier at the end of the 61-year study than at the beginning. This indicates the sensitivity of these species to climate change.

CASE STUDY

Objective 1. Target 4.

American Pika

Assessing Species Richness Across the Colorado Alpine Ecosystem

Studying species richness in Colorado’s alpine. Photo Mike Kintgen

Denver Botanic Gardens (the Gardens) and Regis University in Denver, Colorado partnered to explore species richness at nine previously understudied sites in the Southern Rockies. The project assessed the role that soil pH and precipitation play in driving species richness in fell fields and dry meadows. The sites ranged from areas with heavy recreational use to those deep within wilderness areas. Herbarium specimens were collected to document species diversity at the sites for the Kathryn Kalmbach Herbarium (KHD) at DBG . There were no previous collections at three of the sites and the other six sites ranged from well to poorly collected. Additionally, a full species list, phenology, and percent coverage of each species were collected.

This study of sites in the Southern Rockies indicates that an increase in both precipi- tation and soil pH results in an increase in species richness. The pattern runs counter to what was found in the Southern Andes and the Central Alps, where drier areas showed greater species richness. More study sites are needed to confirm the ob- served pattern. If confirmed this would help predict the best alpine areas to target for in-situ protection.

CASE STUDY

Objective 2. Target 8.

American Pika

Alpine Conservation Through Seed Studies

Physaria alpina. Photo Alex Seglias

Placing seeds in seed banks, below-freezing storage facilities, has become the primary method of ex-situ conservation for plants around the world. However, not all seeds are able to survive these dry, subzero conditions. Studies have shown that alpine species are short-lived in seed banks com- pared to lower elevation species even though they are adapted to extremely cold conditions. Denver Botanic Gardens received an Institute of Museum and Library Services award along with 11 other collaborating institutions
for Endangered Exceptional Plant Research led by the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. We are researching rare alpine species of Colorado to understand if they can be considered exceptional, requiring a different form of
ex-situ conservation. This could have a dramatic impact on conservation strategies in the alpine.

  • 1
    The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. Richmond (UK): Botanic Gardens Conservation International; 2002. (accessed 2020 Feb 21) https://www.bgci.org/policy/gspc/
  • 2
    The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation 2011-2020. Richmond (UK): Botanic Gardens Conservation Inter- national; 2011. [accessed 2020 Feb 21] https://www.publicgardens.org/resources/global-strategy-plant-conservation-2011-2020
  • 3
    North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Plant Conservation, 2016-2020. Illinois (USA): Botanic Gardens Conservation International, U.S.; 2016. [accessed 2020 Feb 21] http://northamericanplants.org/wp-content/up- loads/2016/05/NAGSPC.pdf
  • 4
    Körner C. Alpine Plant Life: Functional Plant Ecology of High Mountain Ecosystems. Berlin: Springer, 2007. p.7.
  • 5
    Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. Shukla PR, Skea J, Calvo Buendia E, Masson-Delmotte V, Pörtner HO, Roberts DC, Zhai P, Slade R, Connors S, van Diemen R, M. Ferrat M, et al., editors. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2019. In press; p. 7, 50, 183-4, 271-2, 297. [accessed 2020 Feb 25] https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2019/11/SRCCL-Full-Report-Compiled-191128.pdf
  • 6
    Pepin N, Bradley RS, Diaz HF, Baraer M, Caceres EB, Forsythe N, Fowler H, Greenwood, G, Hashmi MZ, Liu XD, et al. Elevation-dependent warming in mountain regions of the world. Nature Climate Change. 2015;5:424-430. [accessed 2020 Feb 21] https://www.nature.com/articles/nclimate2563
  • 7
    Wang Q, Fan X, Wang M. Recent warming amplification over high elevation regions across the globe. Climate Dynamics. 2014;43:87-101. [accessed 2020 Feb 21] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00382-013-1889-3
  • 8

    Saunders S, Montgomery C, Easley T, Spencer, T. Hotter and Drier: The West’s Changed Climate. 2008. [accessed 2020 Feb 21] https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/west.pdf
  • 9
    Pederson GT, Graulich LJ, Fagre,DB, Kipfer T, Muhlfeld CC 2010. A century of climate and ecosystem change in Western Montana: what do temperature trends portend? Climate Change. 2010;98:133-154. [accessed 2020 Feb 21] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-009-9642-y
  • 10
    Clow DW. Changes in the Timing of Snowmelt and Streamflow in Colorado: A Response to Recent Warming. Journal of Climate. 2010;23:2293-2306 [accessed 2020 Feb 21] https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/full/10.1175/2009JC- LI2951.1
  • 11
    Pauli H, Gottfried M, Grabherr G.The Piz Linard (3411 m), The Grisons, Switzerland – Europe’s Oldest Mountain Study Site. In: Nagy L, Grabherr G, Körner C, Thompson DBA, editors. Alpine Biodiversity in Europe, 167. Berlin: Springer-Verlag; 2003. p. 443 – 448
  • 12
    Gottfried M, Pauli H, Futschik A, Akhalkatsi M, Barančok P, Alonso JLB, Coldea G, Dick J, Erschbamer B, Calzado MRF, et al. Continent-wide response of mountain vegetation to climate change. Nature Climate Change. 2012 [accessed 2020 Feb 25]. https://www.nature.com/articles/nclimate1329
  • 13
    Parolo G, Rossi G. Upward migration of vascular plants following a climate warming trend in the Alps. Basic and Applied Ecology. 2008;9,100–107. [accessed 2020 Feb 21]. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/ S1439179107000126
  • 14
    Lesica P, McCune, B. Decline of arctic-alpine plants at the southern margin of their range following a decade of climatic warming. Journal of Vegetation Science. 2004;15:679-690. [accessed 2020 Feb 21] https://onlinelibrary. wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1654-1103.2004.tb02310.x