Washington, June 27 : A new study has shown that plants are "climbing" higher elevations on mountains to cope up with global warming.
Previous research has suggested that many plant and animal species have been shifting their ranges toward the Poles as the planet warms. According to a report in National Geographic News, now scientists have found evidence that plants have also been slowly moving into higher elevations to stay within ideal temperature zones.
Each year, this "escalator effect" is pushing plants upward by about ten feet (three meters).
"When we started to look at this, I was not expecting such a strong message," said study leader Jonathan Lenoir, a forest ecologist at AgroParisTech, a research institute in France.
If global warming continues over the coming decades, as researchers predict it will, the plants will continue to climb.
For more than a century, naturalists all over the world have been recording exactly where they found various plant species in the mountains.
In the mountains, climate conditions change dramatically with altitude, making it is easier to detect when certain species shift to higher elevations.
"Mountains are (therefore) amazing places to observe vegetation changes in response to climate warming," said Lenoir.
The new study drew on nearly 8,000 historical surveys of the mountains in and around France, some stretching back to 1905. Temperatures in these mountains, which include the Western Alps, Pyrenees, and Massif Central, crossed a threshold around 1985, according to the researchers.
Before that year, the region shows no clear trend in climate changes. But since then, the mountains have been warming, and plants began moving in sync with rising temperatures.
The scientists looked at the movements of 171 species in forests on the lower slopes, from sea level up to 8,500 feet (2,600 meters).
While earlier studies had focused on plants in high altitudes that are known to be more sensitive to temperature changes, the new work found that even common plants at lower elevations are feeling the heat.
The team also discovered that different types of plants are moving at different rates.
"Long-lived plants like trees or shrubs did not show a significant shift, whereas short-lived species like herbs showed a strong upward shift in elevation," said Lenoir.
"This may imply profound changes in the composition and the structure of plant communities and on the animal species they interact with. It may disrupt ecosystems," he added.
According to Cynthia Rosenzweig of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, though this research shows that these plants are adapting to the climatic changes, they're going to have to keep moving up and up, and eventually run out of room.