Press Release from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

Climate change threatens one in five plant species

Climate change alters growing conditions in many regions of the world. How global warming could affect Germany’s flora researchers have now simulated using computer models.

Halle/Saale, Potsdam, August 2008 - One in five of Germany’s plant species could lose parts of its current range, a study by scientists at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the French Laboratoire d’Ecologie Alpine reveals. Species distributions will be rearranged as a result of climate change; this could have a dramatic impact particularly on the vegetation in south-western and eastern Germany. The researchers have modelled and recorded how the ranges of a total of 845 European plant species will shift under three different future scenarios. Even moderate climate change and limited land use changes could have an adverse impact on flora, the researchers write in the current edition of Biology Letters. The research shows how important it is to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level in order to preserve broad biodiversity in plant species.

Juglans regia

A winner of climate change: the range of walnut (Juglans regia) increases. This species is projected to find suitable mild climate in larger areas of Germany due to global warming.
Photo: Franz Badeck/PIK

download als jpg (1,2 MB)

Common spruce

A loser of climate change: Common spruce (Picea abies) is adapted to cool and humid conditions which are projected to prevail in smaller areas of Germany in the future. Water stress can increase the susceptibility of the tree species to pests and storms.
Photo: Tilo Arnold/UFZ

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Sven Pompe and his colleagues from UFZ evaluated the potential impact of climate change on the distribution of 845 European plant species, 550 of which are currently found in Germany. The research team, which included Franz Badeck from PIK, used climate and land use scenarios up to 2080 based on possible temperature increases of 2.2, 2.9 or 3.8 degrees Celsius. The impacts of climate change will result in local losses of flora. The reduction in the ranges of plants is a general trend, although some central and southern European species move in which were not previously recorded in Germany. The impacts will vary locally, with the greatest reduction in species richness likely to take place in north-eastern and south-western Germany. The effects in the simulations become greater as the temperature increases. With moderate warming of about 2.2 degrees Celsius, about seven percent of species will lose more than two-thirds of their current ranges. This increases to eleven percent at a warming of 2.9 degrees Celsius and twenty percent at 3.8 degrees Celsius. The fact that the extent of change increases disproportionately to the projected increase in temperature argues in favour of the European Union's stabilisation target of two degrees Celsius in order to protect biodiversity. Saarland, Rhineland Palatinate and Hesse and the lowland plains of Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony could suffer particularly high species losses. In contrast, the researchers expect the number of species in the low mountain ranges of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Thuringia and Saxony to increase slightly, with some plants moving in. However, for this to happen these species would actually have to reach these areas: climate change could take place too quickly for most plant species to adapt or migrate in line with the shifts in ranges - polewards or to higher altitudes.
"Many plant species could lose their niches in habitats such as mountains or moors,“ Sven Pompe from UFZ explains. Migrating species from southern Europe could not compensate for these losses in the models. The marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), for example, is one of the losers to climate change. The changes in the environmental conditions in the scenarios will result in this species disappearing locally from the low-lying areas of Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony. In contrast, the common walnut (Juglans regia), originally introduced north of the Alps by the Romans, would find more areas with suitable conditions and could extend into eastern Germany.

The third party funded project "Modellierung der Auswirkungen des Klimawandels auf die Flora“ [Modelling of the impacts of climate change on the flora (of Germany)] was funded by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) with funds from the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and as part of the European Union’s ALARM, MACIS and ECOCHANGE research projects. Impacts of climate change on biodiversity are being researched by UFZ and PIK in the joint projects "Protected Areas in Germany under Global Change - Risks and Policy Options” and ALARM.
Tilo Arnhold


Sven Pompe, Jan Hanspach, Franz Badeck, Stefan Klotz, Wilfried Thuiller, Büttner, Ingolf Kühn (2008):
Climate and land use change impacts on plant distributions in Germany.
Biology Letters, DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2008.0231

Further Information:

Sven Pompe, Jan Hanspach, Dr Ingolf Kühn
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)
Phone: +49 345 558-5316, -5311


Dr Franz-W. Badeck
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

or from

Tilo Arnhold (Press Officer, UFZ)
Phone: +49 341 235-1269
Patrick Eickemeier (Press Officer, PIK)
Phone: +49 331 288-2430


Modeling the impact of climate change on plant distribution in Germany:

Protected Areas in Germany under Global Change - Risks and Policy Options:

FloraWeb – Information from the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN):

ALARM – Assessing Large Scale Risks for Biodiversity with tested Methods:

MACIS – Minimisation of and Adaptation to Climate Change Impacts on Biodiversity:

ECOCHANGE – Biodiversity and Ecosystem Changes in Europe:

At the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) scientists research the causes and consequences of far-reaching environmental changes. They study water resources, biological diversity, the consequences of climate change and adaptation possibilities, environmental and biotechnologies, bio energy, the behaviour of chemicals in the environment and their effect on health, as well as modelling and social science issues. Their guiding research principle is supporting the sustainable use of natural resources and helping to secure these basic requirements of life over the long term under the influence of global change. The UFZ employs 900 people at its sites in Leipzig, Halle and Magdeburg. It is funded by the German government and by the states of Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.
The Helmholtz Association helps solve major, pressing challenges facing society, science and the economy with top scientific achievements in six research areas: Energy, Earth and Environment, Health, Key Technologies, Structure of Matter, Transport and Space. With 25,700 employees in 15 research centres and an annual budget of around EUR 2.3 billion, the Helmholtz Association is Germany’s largest scientific organisation. Its work follows in the tradition of the great natural scientist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894).

The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) researches global change, climate impact and sustainable development issues. What impact do humans have on the earth’s system, how do greenhouse gases affect the climate and how can we set the course for globally stable economic growth that does not outstrip the earth’s ecological capacities? These key questions are being studied by the institute’s researchers in four interdisciplinary research domains. With natural scientists, economists and social scientists researching together, the Institute, which was established in 1992, is regarded as a pioneer of interdisciplinary research.
PIK is a member of the Leibniz Association, an organisation made up of 82 research institutes tackling scientific issues with relevance for society. They provide infrastructure for science and research and perform research-based services such as mediation, advice and knowledge transfer for the public sector, politics, science and industry. Their research encompasses the domains of natural, engineering and environmental sciences as well as economics, social science, space science and humanities.