Cactus Is Replacing Snow In Switzerland Mountains, Sparking Global Warming Concern – NDTV
Mountains in Switzerland are synonymous with snow. However, people are noticing increasing growth of cactus covering the slopes as global warming worsens. Authorities claim that prickly pears, or species of the cactus genus Opuntia, are proliferating in some areas of Valais, encroaching on natural reserves, and posing a threat to biodiversity, as per a report in The Guardian.
In some of the hills surrounding Sion, the capital of Valais, opuntia species and related cacti have also become common. According to estimates, opuntia plants currently account for 23-30 per cent of the low vegetation cover in these slopes. Additionally, reports of their appearance have come from nearby Alpine areas including Ticino and Grisons in Switzerland, as well as the Aosta Valley and Valtellina in Italy.
“In some parts of Valais, we estimate that the cacti can occupy one-third of the available surface,” says Yann Triponez, a biologist who works in the canton of Valais’ nature protection service told the outlet. The experts think that the warmer climate of the Alps, which extends the length of the growing season, and the retreating snow may be fostering their growth.
In the Alps, snow is becoming less common at lower elevations. The amount of snow days in Switzerland below 800 metres of elevation has decreased by half since 1970, the outlet noted.
The average temperature in Switzerland is now 2.4 degree celcius warmer than averages between 1871 and 1900. The temperatures throughout the range have been rising twice as quickly as the global average.
“Valais is one of the biodiversity hotspots in Switzerland. We have about 3,000 species of plants in Switzerland, and some 2,200 are in Valai,” said Peter Oliver Baumgartner, a retired geology professor with a longstanding side interest in botany who has been commissioned by the canton to study and write a report on the plants. He also added that the authorities are worried by the cacti’s spread to natural reserves and protected areas.
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It is also reported that authorities have also started an awareness campaign to warn residents, who occasionally plant the cacti and tourists about the threat. Stopping the spread of the plant will not be easy as the the plants swiftly regrow after being removed, sprout back after being toppled, trampled by hikers or left dry for months.