Elevational range shifts of mountain vineyards: Recent dynamics in response to a warming climate

Increasing temperatures worldwide are expected to cause a change in spatial distribution of plant species along elevational gradients and there are already observable shifts to higher elevations as a consequence of climate change for many species. Not only naturally growing plants, but also agricultural cultivations are subject to the effects of climate change, as the type of cultivation and the economic viability depends largely on the prevailing climatic conditions. A shift to higher elevations therefore represents a viable adaptation strategy to climate change, as higher elevations are characterized by lower temperatures. This is especially important in the case of viticulture because a certain wine-style can only be achieved under very specific climatic conditions. Although there are several studies investigating climatic suitability within winegrowing regions or longitudinal shifts of winegrowing areas, little is known about how fast vineyards move to higher elevations, which may represent a viable strategy for winegrowers to maintain growing conditions and thus wine-style, despite the effects of climate change. We therefore investigated the change in the spatial distribution of vineyards along an elevational gradient over the past 20 years in the mountainous wine-growing region of Alto Adige (Italy). A dataset containing information about location and planting year of more than 26000 vineyard parcels and 30 varieties was used to perform this analysis. Preliminary results suggest that there has been a shift to higher elevations for vineyards in general (from formerly 700m to currently 850 m a.s.l., with extreme sites reaching 1200 m a.s.l.), but also that this development has not been uniform across different varieties and products (i.e. vitis vinifera vs hybrid varieties and still vssparkling wines). This is important for climate change adaptation as well as for rural development. Mountain areas, especially at mid to high elevations, are often characterized by severe land abandonment which can be avoided to some degree if economically viable and sustainable land management strategies are available.

Authors: Lukas Egarter Vigl and Simon Tscholl

Eurac Research, Institute for Alpine Environment, Bolzano/Bozen, Italy

Email: lukas.egarter@eurac.edu

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