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Researchers are studying the impacts climate change may be having on Colorado's alpine plant population

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Posted at 5:00 AM, Feb 20, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-20 14:04:18-05

DENVER — Global warming is probably not one of the things that comes to mind during Colorado's cold winter months, but it is on the mind of researchers this time of year who are looking at the impacts that rising temperatures might be having on the state's alpine plant population.

Typically, during the warm summer months, is when researchers are up in Colorado's highest mountain regions, studying how global warming is affecting the plants that grow at Colorado's highest elevations.

"Alpine ecosystems, in particular, are at risk for climate change, because we're seeing an increase in temperature that's more drastic up there than in lower elevations," said Alexandra Seglias, a seed conservation research associate at the Denver Botanic Gardens. "In addition to increases temperatures, you are also getting decreased snowpack over the winter, and you get shorter winters, so there's just a barrier up there, there are climatic factors that are changing at a higher pace than in lower elevations."

Seglias is just one of several researchers working hard inside a lab at the Denver Botanic Gardens. It's there where they store seeds at temperatures well below zero. One of the things she's looking at is how to conserve these plants, many of them of them from Colorado's alpine region, in the event they become threatened because of rising temperatures.

One of the things their research has shown so far is that certain species of Colorado's alpine plants are slowly migrating upwards, to higher elevations. But not all can.

"Alpine plants can't move very easily like animals can," said Seglias. "Furthermore, they're already at the elevational limits, so they can't move any higher to outpace climate change and escape those changing climatic factors, so it's going to be a matter of if these alpine species can adapt or not, and handle these changing climatic conditions."

Researchers said they may not see the full spectrum of impacts that global warming is having on Colorado's alpine plant populations for several decades. They're hoping to use the information they get from their research for conservation efforts well past that point.

Researchers studying impacts climate change is having on Colorado's alpine plants

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