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Climate change causing European mountain plants to move upward

The mountain plant migration has been coupled with decreasing diversity in Europe's flora said a new study in the journal Science.

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'Rhododendron ferrugineum growing on Hochgolling, Salzburger Land, Austria. (Wikimedia/Wikimedia commons)

A new study has shown that European mountain plants are moving to higher altitudes as a result of climate change.

The study, coordinated by the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the University of Vienna, was based on a range of flora from 66 mountains between northern Europe and the Mediterranean.

Researchers also found that plants in northern and central Europe were getting more widespread at higher elevations, while on the Mediterranean some species were declining, reported Sky News.

"Our results showing a decline at the Mediterranean sites is worrying because these are the mountains with a very unique flora and a large proportion of their species occur only there and nowhere else on Earth," said Harald Pauli, said study organizer, reported the AFP.

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"The observed species losses were most pronounced on the lower summits, where plants are expected to suffer earlier from water deficiency than on the snowier high peaks," he went on to say.

Climate change may be aggravating this phenomenon as decreasing snowfall has meant less water during the spring for plants at lower elevations.

Researchers also warned against the increasing richness of certain species at higher elevations and said this may not be a good sign.

"Newly appearing plants are predominantly more widespread species from lower elevations and will pose increasing competition pressure on the rarer cold-loving alpine flowers," said Michael Gottfried, a study author, according to Science Daily.

The study was published in the journal Science.