Pinus mugoMountain pines at the timberline (photo credit: Alpine Research Sites, Nikolaus Schallhart) 

How mountain pine needles stay active in winter

New study on photosynthetic activity of needles of Pinus mugo during frost periods published in Physiologia Plantarum

Trees in subalpine habitats are usually conifers, like the mountain pine (Pinus mugo). This is no coincidence, because the reduced and often waxed surface of needles protects against moisture loss during winter droughts, which can be particularly prolonged in mountain areas due to frozen soils. However, this is not the only trick of conifers to sustain harsh winter conditions. Mountain pine needles have developed a mechanism that allows them to photosynthesize even in the frozen state. A team of researchers from the University of Innsbruck and the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Vienna, investigated this mechanism, studying mountain pines in the Patscherkofel Alpine Garden in the frame the FWF project Ice mass accumulation in plant tissues.

If you want to know more about this phenomenon, take a look at the recent publication: Stegner, M., Buchner, O., Geßlbauer, M., Lindner, J., Flörl, A., Xiao, N., Holzinger, A., Gierlinger, N. & Neuner, G. (2023): Frozen mountain pine needles: the endodermis discriminates between the ice-containing central tissue and the ice-free fully functional mesophyll. Physiologia Plantarum, 175(1), e13865,



Rotmoostal mit Rotmoosbach bei ObergurglThe Rotmoos stream near Obergurgl is a typical glacial stream, fed by meltwater from the Rotmoos glacier and the snow of the winter months (photo credit: Alpine Research Sites, Nikolaus Schallhart) 

How glacier retreat affects downstream habitats

New publication in Nature Ecology & Evolution with the collaboration of Leopold Füreder with his results from biological research projects in glacial rivers around Obergurgl

The accelerated melting of glaciers is affecting streams fed by glacial water through changes in water temperatures and discharge regimes. This has direct implications for various animal and plant species that live in these streams but can also have far-reaching consequences for terrestrial wildlife, since the invertebrate fauna in these streams is an important food source not only for fish, but also for birds and mammals.  

An international team of researchers with the participation of Leopold Füreder from the department of ecology from the University of Innsbruck investigated how these invertebrate species react to the changing living conditions in their habitats and concluded how this should influence the protection status of alpine running waters. The results of this study have been published in: Wilkes, M.A., Carrivick, J.L., Castella, E. et al. Glacier retreat reorganizes river habitats leaving refugia for Alpine invertebrate biodiversity poorly protected. Nat Ecol Evol (2023).



Blockgletscher Äußeres HochebenkarThe rock glacier in Äußeres Hochebenkar with "Gurgler Alm" alpine hut in the lower left corner for size comparison (photo credit: Alpine Research Sites, Nikolaus Schallhart) 

The heat is literally on rock glaciers

New publication reveals destabilizing effects of climate change on the rock glacier in Äußeres Hochebenkar

Rock glaciers are complex structures of boulders and debris held together by a frozen permafrost core. Due to their characteristic appearance, they are probably the most impressive permafrost phenomena in the high mountains. Rock glaciers, like their namesakes glaciers, are strongly influenced by the climatic changes of the last decades. This may lead to alarming developments, as shown by an international team of researchers, monitoring the rock glacier in Äußeres Hochebenkar near Obergurgl.

If you want to find out more about the effects of climate change on rock glaciers, please read the recent publication Multi-sensor monitoring and data integration reveal cyclical destabilization of the Äußeres Hochebenkar rock glacier (Earth Surface Dynamics,



Rotmoostal Frühjahr 2021The Rotmoos valley in early summer 2021 (photo credit: Alpine Research Sites, Nikolaus Schallhart) 

Plants replace the ice

New publication on successional pathways of plant communities in a glacier foreland in Plant Ecology

The scientific term succession describes the mechanisms by which inanimate or disturbed areas are colonized by living organisms. In the Rotmoos valley near Obergurgl, such succession studies have been carried out for decades. The glacier that originally dominated the valley has been melting for over 150 years, releasing areas for recolonization. As a result, this open-air laboratory continues to reveal new findings. In a long-term study carried out by a group of researchers at the University of Innsbruck led by Brigitta Erschbamer, the development of plant communities of different successional stages in the valley was examined. Sown experimental plots were established at selected sites together with control plots. All plots were then regularly studied over a period of 25 years. To find out which factors govern the vegetation development in this glacier valley, check the latest publication: Long term monitoring confirms limitations of recruitment and facilitation and reveals unexpected changes of the successional pathways in a glacier foreland of the Central Austrian Alps (Plant Ecology,



Gossenköllesee Bildcollage

One bacterial strain - two pathways to energy

It is common knowledge, that plants obtain energy from light. However, some bacterial strains have this ability as well. In alpine habitats, this can be quite challenging due to completely different seasonal conditions (moderate temperatures with high light exposure in summer, low temperatures and shorter sunshine duration in winter). A team of scientists with the participation of Ruben Sommaruga and Christopher Bellas from the University of Innsbruck recently made an astonishing discovery on a bacterial strain from Lake Gossenköllesee. These bacteria use two completely different mechanisms to obtain energy from light, presumably to cope with the different seasonal conditions. This bacterial strain is the first one on which this adaptation was proven.

To find out which bacterial strain it is and which mechanisms it has developed, read the article in the Newsletter of the University of Innsbruck ( and the recent publication A bacterium from a mountain lake harvests light using both proton-pumping xanthorhodopsins and bacteriochlorophyll-based photosystems (PNAS 2022,



research site Stubai -  Kaserstattalm

picture: research group Functional Ecology

The influence of drought on ecosystems

New study with the participation of Michael Bahn published in Nature Ecology & Evolution

Severe droughts increase due to climate change. To quantify their impact on ecosystems, researchers conduct field experiments worldwide. Michael Bahn from the University of Innsbruck and his research group Functional Ecology investigate the influence of drought events on alpine pastures at the research site Stubai - Kaserstattalm. He participated in an international study, which quantified the influence of drought on aboveground biomass via a meta-analysis of 75 experiments and 83 observations.   

This study was recently published in Nature Ecology & Evolution: Kröel-Dulay, G., Mojzes, A., Szitár, K., Bahn, M. et al: Field experiments underestimate aboveground biomass response to drought. Nat Ecol Evol (2022).




The Pollen Monitoring Service for Tyrol - run by the Department of Botany of the University of Innsbruck - recenty published its annual report for 2021. You can find it at the website of the Pollen Monitoring Service. During pollen season you can also find weekly reports on this site.



 S4SSS Logo

The Student for Student Summer School 2022 will take place from September 5th to 9th 2022 in Obergurgl, Austria. The Summer School is dedicated to PhD-students working in mountainous regions in the fields of Atmosphere, (Paleo-)Climate, Glaciers, Natural Hazards and Tourism. It is offered in conjunction with and prior to the International Mountain Conference 2022 to provide PhD-students with extended possibilities to discuss their research in detail with fellow students and experts. The call for abstracts ends on February 16th. For further information visit the website of the Summer School or take a look at the fact sheet.


Laserscanner im RotmoostalInnsbruck Summer School of Alpine Research 2022 - Close Range Sensing Techniques in Alpine Terrain


Obergurgl (Austria), 18.9.2022 – 24.9.2022

University of Innsbruck, Faculty of Geo- and Atmospheric Sciences
International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ISPRS)


The Innsbruck Summer School of Alpine Research 2022 will take place at the University Center Obergurgl from 18th to 24th September.

Please register by e-mail ( until 28th of February, 2022. For more information visit



Which factors affect plant trait variations?

International study with the participation of Michael Bahn published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Plants have developed an astonishing variety in functional traits such as plant height, leaf area or nutrient concentrations in leafs. But what drives this process? To answer this question, an international research team analysed 17 traits in a dataset of more than 20,000 plant species. Michael Bahn, head of the research group Functional Ecology, participated in this study providing comprehensive data on traits of plant species from European mountain ecosystems. For more information, please read the publication in Nature Ecology & Evolution: Climatic and soil factors explain the two-dimensional spectrum of global plant trait variation. J. Joswig et al. Nature Ecology and Evolution (2021) DOI: 10.1038/s41559-021-01616-8



Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! We will continue to provide you with all the important news about the Alpine Research Sites in 2022.



research site Neustift

Identification of major axes of terrestrial ecosystem function

New ecosystem study with the participation of Michael Bahn and Georg Wohlfahrt using data from the research site Stubai published in Nature

An international research team utilized data from over 200 FLUXNET sites to reveal the three major axes of terrestrial ecosystem function. Michael Bahn and Georg Wohlfahrt from the department of ecology of the University of Innsbruck were involved in the project development and provided data from the research site Stubai.

To find out more about the three axes and their importance for ecosystem functioning, please read the Nature article.


historic photograph of the University Center Obergurgl

The Alpine Research Centre Obergurgl turned 70

The Alpine Research Centre Obergurgl has a long history of science and education. It opened on 7th July 1951 as the ‘Bundessportheim und Alpine Forschungsstelle der Universität Innsbruck‘. Its founding father and first director was Prof. Dr. Ing. agrar. Wolfgang Burger. His comprehensive expertise of both natural and sport sciences and his knowledge of the Ötztal valley encouraged him to combine science, alpinism and skiing and to share his experience with students and international guests in Obergurgl.

The University Center and the Alpine Research Centre Obergurgl do their very best to carry his vision further.



Hohe Mut and Kirchenkogel, Obergurgl

The influence of climate warming on microbial communities and processes in alpine soils

Some results of the project Soil microbial community dynamics and biogeochemical cycles under global change: effects of climate and vegetation change in alpine ecosystems from Obergurgl and Vent

An international team of researchers headed by Michael Bahn (University of Innsbruck, Department of Ecology) and Richard Bardgett (The University of Manchester) are currently investigating potential effects of climate change on soil microbes in alpine environments. On study sites in the inner Ötz valley they manipulated snow heights and snow cover duration. Some first results from the project, funded by the National Environment Research Council of the UK, was recently published in the ISME Journal and has been featured in the magazine ‘wissenswert’ and the newsroom of the University of Innsbruck.



Lake Piburg

Climate warming affects oxygen concentrations and thermal habitats in lakes

Results of international study with contributions of Ruben Sommaruga (Department of Ecology) published in Nature and Nature Climate Change 

Recent climate change has a significant impact on lakes. Water temperature increase leads to shifts in thermal habitats and to a decrease of oxygen concentration resulting in the emergence of dead zones. This was revealed in an international study in which Ruben Sommaruga (Department of Ecology) participated and data of Lake Piburg was incorporated in the analysis. Detailed results of the study were published in Nature and Nature Climate Change and furhter information can be found in the "Newsroom" of the University of Innsbruck here and here.


Analysis of lake mud sheds light on cause of prehistoric rockslides

A new publication in Nature Communications on analysis of sediment cores of Lake Piburg and Lake Plansee 

Scientists of the Department of Geology of the University of Innsbruck analysed the sediment on the bottom of Lake Piburg and Lake Plansee to reveal the cause of prehistoric rockslides.

Further Information and the results of this study can be found in this item in the  “Newsroom” webpage of the University of Innsbruck and in the publication in Nature Communications which can also be found in our literature database.



Finger­print for the for­ma­tion of nit­rous oxide emis­sions

A new publication in Science Advances on study of nitrous oxide at Kaserstattalm

Scientists led by Eliza Harris from the Institute of Ecology have succeeded in studying emissions of the greenhouse gas N2O under the influence of environmental impacts in an unprecedented level of detail. This study is also a starting point for the creation of models that could predict future trends in the greenhouse gas emission dynamics of ecosystems under global climate Change.

More information on this research can be found in this item in the “Newsroom” webpage of the University of Innsbruck. A link to the publication in Science Advances can be found in the literature database here.


Research station at lake Gossenkölle

Politon-like viruses found in Lake Gossenkölle

A new publication in Microbiome reveals latest findings in lake Gossenkölle.

Christopher Bellas and Ruben Sommaruga from the Department of Ecology found 82 new species of so called politon-like viruses in Lake Gossenkölle by analysing DNA in water samples. This discovery increased the number of known polinton-like viruses by 25-fold. More information on this research can be found in this item in the “Newsroom” of the webpage of the University of Innsbruck. A link to the publication in Microbiome can be found in the literature database here.



Mosses and Liverworts of Tyrol - Especially those connected to the Iceman

book cover

Wolfgang K. Hofbauer, James H. Dickson
Alpine Forschungsstelle Obergurgl - volume 5
ISBN 978-3-903187-84-9
236 pages, including colour illustrations and maps
2020, innsbruck university press • iup
price: 29,90 Euro

The fifth book within the series "Lebensräume im inneren Ötztal" (environments of the inner Ötztal) is focussed on bryophytes, a species group often ignored although occurring nearly everywhere in the Alps. This book comprises an impressive number of more than 500 bryophytes from the valleys of the Austrian and South Tyrolean Central Alps (mainly Ötztal Alps). They resulted from collections along altitudinal gradients from the valley bottom up to more than 3000 m a.s.l.

Wolfgang K. Hofbauer and James H. Dickson, two outstanding bryophyte experts, are responsible for the documentation and determination.

James H. Dickson was involved in the research boom, started after the discovery of the Iceman (Ötzi) in 1991 at the border between Austria and Italy. An incredible number of bryophyte fragments was found at and in the corpse of the Iceman, at his gear and clothing and in the sediment of the discovery place. 68 subfossile bryophyte species were identified to species level by James H. Dickson and they are now listed in this book.

Stimulated by the questions arising from the diversity of "Iceman bryophytes", Wolfgang K. Hofbauer and James H. Dickson started a long-term investigation, studying transects along the valleys north and south of the Iceman discovery place. In total, 200 plots of 1 km² were examined over a period of more than two decades. The results of this comprehensive bryological mapping are presented in this book. For some selected species, distribution maps are shown. For all species of the recent bryoflora, the altitudinal ranges are provided as well as the uppermost known occurrence. These informations can be regarded as basic data for future bryological research of climate change effects in the investigation area.

This is the first book of this series published completely in English language.

The book is available at Innsbruck university press here and chapters of the book are free for download here.


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