Will climate change increase the risk of plant invasions into mountains? Academic Article uri icon


  • Mountain ecosystems have been less adversely affected by invasions of non-native plants than most other ecosystems, partially because most invasive plants in the lowlands are limited by climate and cannot grow under harsher high-elevation conditions. However, with ongoing climate change, invasive species may rapidly move upwards and threaten mid-, and then high-elevation mountain ecosystems. We evaluated this threat by modeling the current and future habitat suitability for 48 invasive plant species in Switzerland and New South Wales, Australia. Both regions had contrasting climate interactions with elevation, resulting in possible different responses of species distributions to climate change. Using a species distribution modeling approach that combines data from two spatial scales, we built high-resolution species distribution models (≤ 250 m) that account for the global climatic niche of species and also finer variables depicting local climate and disturbances. We found that different environmental drivers limit the elevation range of invasive species in each of the two regions, leading to region-specific species responses to climate change. The optimal suitability for plant invaders is predicted to markedly shift from the lowland to the montane or subalpine zone in Switzerland, whereas the upward shift is far less pronounced in New South Wales where montane and subalpine elevations are already suitable. The results suggest that species most likely to invade high elevations in Switzerland will be cold-tolerant, whereas species with an affinity to moist soils are most likely to invade higher elevations in Australia. Other plant traits were only marginally associated with elevation limits. These results demonstrate that a more systematic consideration of future distributions of invasive species is required in conservation plans of not yet invaded mountainous ecosystems.


  • Petitpierre, B
  • McDougall, K
  • Seipel, T
  • Broennimann, O
  • Guisan, A
  • Kueffer, C

publication date

  • 2016