Degradation of high mountain ecosystems in northern Europe

Research paper by Jörg Löffler

Indexed on: 01 May '04Published on: 01 May '04Published in: Journal of mountain science


Data material of a long-term high mountain ecosystem research project was used to interpret the grazing impact of reindeers. In central Norway investigations were conducted to both, areas where reindeer grazing is excluded, and areas where intensive pasturing is present for a long period of time. The comparative analysis of grazing impact was based on similar environmental conditions. The results were transposed to northern Norway where dramtic overgrazing had been exceeding the carrying capacity. Using landscape ecological mappings, especially of vegetation and soils, the impact of reindeer grazing in different areas became obvious. Non-grazed lichen-dominated ecosystems of the snow-free locations functioned sensitively near the limit of organism survival. These localities were most influenced by grazing as they offer the winter forage to the reindeers. So, intensive grazing in central Norway led to landscape degradation by destruction of the vegetation and superinduced by soil erosion. Those features were comparable to the situation in northern Norway, where a broad-scale destruction of the environment combined with a depression of the altitudinal belts had occurred due to overgrazing. Functioning principles of intact high mountain systems were explained and used to interpret the environmental background for the understanding of degradation phenomena. Finally, the use of a new model calculating the carrying capacity of high mountain landscape was discussed.