Alpine plant ecology

Our long term activities aim at a functional understanding of alpine plant life. Overall our research shifted gradually from studying resource acquisition (e.g. photosynthesis) toward resource investment and questions of developement. As with treeline, sink activity seems to be the major determinant of growth. A common misconception associated with alpine plant life finds its expression in the use of the terms 'stress' and 'limitation'. See the critique in:
Körner C (1998) Alpine plants: stressed or adapted? In: Press MC, Scholes JD, Barker MG (eds.) Physiological Plant Ecology. Blackwell Science , 297-311

Ongoing experimental work: The influence of photoperiod on growth and development in high elevation taxa (Ph.D. by Franziska Keller in cooperation with the Dept. of Geography, University of Fribourg). We test, whether and which species are responsive to earlier snow melt. It appears there exists a suite of different sensitivities, suggesting biodiversity shifts. We also tested the influence of nutrient addition on high elevation pioneer plants and run a longer term project on the interactive effect on sheep tramplng, nitrogen deposition and warming as part of the Swiss National Project NFP 48.

A Europe-wide assessment of ground temperatures in alpine grassland is part of ALPNET (see associated organisations). The assessment provides a basis for comparing biodiversity in alpine biota from 69 to 37 degree of northern latitude. (Nagy et al. (2003) Ecological Studies, Vol. 167. 577 p. Springer, Berlin). A synthesis of research in functional ecology of alpine plants over the past 100 years was published in 1999.


Dietrich L, Körner C (2014) Thermal imaging reveals massive heat accumulation in flowers across a broad spectrum of alpine taxa. Alp Bot 124:27-35
Hiltbrunner E, Aerts R, Bühlmann T, Huss-Danell K, Magnusson B, Myrold DD, Reed SC, Sigurdsson BD, Körner C (2014) Ecological consequences of the expansion of N2-fixing plants in cold biomes. Oecologia 176:11-24
Körner C (2016) When it gets cold, plant size matters - a comment on tree line. J of Vegetation Science 27:6-7
Körner C (2011) Leben auf dem Dom. Die Alpen 4:60
Körner C (2011) Survivre sur le Dom. Les Alpes 4:60
Körner C (2011) Coldest places on earth with angiosperm plant life. Alpine Botany, DOI 10.1007/s00035-011-0089-1
Körner C (2009) Global statistics of ’mountain' and ’alpine' research. Mountain Res Dev 29:97-102
Körner C (2007) Alpine ecosystems. Encyclopedia of Life Sciences, John Wiley.
Körner C (2007) The use of “altitude” in ecological research. TREE 22:569-574
Körner C (2003) Alpine plant life, 2nd edition. Springer, Heidelberg

Körner C, Barnes BM, Callaghan TV (2015) Life on arctic land. In: Callaghan TV, Savela H (eds), INTERACT - Stories of Arctic Science, Aarhus University and DCE, Denmark, 102-111
Körner C, Leuzinger S, Riedl S, Siegwolf RT, Streule L (2016) Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope signals for an entire alpine flora, based on herbarium samples. Alp Bot 126:153-166
Körner C, Spehn E (eds.) (2002) Mountain biodiversity. A global assessment. Parthenon, Boca Raton

Nagelmüller S, Hiltbrunner E, Körner C (2016) Critically low soil temperatures for root growth and root morphology in three alpine plant species. Alp Botany 126:11-21
Oehl F, Körner C (2014) Multiple mycorrhization at the coldest place known for Angiosperm plant life. Alp Bot 124:193-198

Scherrer D, Körner C (2010) Infra-red thermometry of alpine landscapes challenges climatic warming projections. Global Change Biol 16:2602-2613

Scherrer D, Körner C (2011) Topographically controlled thermal-habitat differentiation buffers alpine plant diversity against climate warming. J Biogeogr 38(2):406-416

Yang Y, Siegwolf RTW, Körner C (2015) Species specific and environment induced variation of delta-13C and delta-15N in alpine plants. Frontiers in Plant Science 6:Article 423



GMBA - Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment
VALUrsern - The ecological and socio-economic consequences of land transformation in alpine regions.
ALPFOR - Alpine Forschungs- und Ausbildungsstation Furka