Climate change is often described in terms of sea-level changes, changes to commercial farming and the accompanying economic stresses of adapting to a different and often harsher environment. Human concerns in familiar vignettes of anthropological drama. However, a departure from such a narrative does seem to have finally appeared. Rather than the tragic calcification of miles of coral reef (noted for their biodiversity, but largely mourned for the loss to the tourist economy) or the projected increase in expense of coffee, one research group has unveiled the effects of climate change in perhaps the most abstracted environ so far: more than 6km in altitude in the Himalayan mountain range.
Although widely regarded as one of the least accessible and hospitable areas in the world, much of what occurs here seems both physically remote and without consequence for the majority of human life. It is therefore unusual that, at a time when conversations about climate change appear focussed on human challenges and the political sphere, such a report may see such extensive press, notably featured in the daily news section of New Scientist on the 1st of December, after publication in the journal Microbial Ecology. The paper, “Root-associated Microbial Community of the World’s Highest Growing Vascular Plants” focuses on the nature of the plant-microbial interactions and it seems that Aisling Irwin, the journalist that authored the New Scientist article, has recognised the relevance of such a study beyond that of record-setting.
Although the presence of a few vascular plants on the side of a mountain at least “five days journey from the nearest road” may at first seem entirely irrelevant, it speaks to a larger trend of adaptation to habitat that is both reassuring and concerning in a paradox of biodiversity health. Surely the news that plants may thrive well beyond the limits of habitat that we expect is a good sign of perseverance in the face of changes to the climate? However, the issue with climate-driven ascension of species is that, although this is an extreme example, other biomes of life may essentially be outcompeted for the once alpine altitude now encroached upon by lower altitude species. This topic is highlighted by Irwin and brought forward by the GLORIA-Himalaya project. This writing illustrates a growing global consciousness on climate change, a theme reflected by recent reports on the comparative viewership of BBC’s “Planet Earth 2” – a series which David Attenborough believes is reconnecting viewers with a planet “whose health is failing”, making the remote relevant.
This article was written by Jack Kellard and edited by Teodora Aldea.