Global warming: Cacti colonise Swiss mountainsides as snow cover recedes, threaten biodiversity – WION
The people living in the Swiss canton of Valais have been habituated to seeing snow-clad mountainsides in winter and ones filled with edelweiss flowers in summer. However, with the intensifying global warming, the slopes seem to be getting strangely colonised by an invasive species – cacti, commonly known to survive in hot and dry regions.
According to the authorities, species of cactus which belong to the genus Opuntia, commonly called prickly pears, have been proliferating in various parts of Valais and encroaching on the region’s natural reserves and becoming a threat to biodiversity.
“A lover of dry and hot climates, this invasive and non-native plant is not welcome in the perimeter of prairies and dry pastures of national importance,” stated the municipality of Fully in the Rhone valley, in the press release issued to announce the uprooting campaign.
Opuntia species and similar kinds of cacti have also grown on a few hills around Sion, the capital of Valais, where it is estimated that Opuntia plants now fall in 23-30 per cent part of the low vegetation cover.
Their growth has also been reported in neighbouring Alpine regions, which include Grisons and Ticino in Switzerland, and Italy’s Aosta valley and Valtellina.
Biologist Yann Triponez, who works in the nature protection service of the canton of Valais, said, “In some parts of Valais, we estimate that the cacti can occupy one-third of the available surface.”
He stated that Opuntia has been growing in Valais at least since the late 18th century when it travelled all the way from North America.
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However, the authorities feel that the warmer climate in the Alps, longer vegetation periods and declining snow cover have been creating ideal environmental conditions for them to grow.
“These species bear -10C or -15C without any problem,” Peter Oliver Baumgartner, a retired geology professor, said.
“But they want to be in a dry place and don’t like snow cover,” he added.
(With inputs from agencies)
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