Selected high alpine plant species were collected from different elevations in the Obergurgl/Ötztal subnival and nival regions in Austria to investigate the content of antioxidants in plants growing under the particular in vivo conditions experienced in this area (e.g. chilling stress, short vegetation period and high irradiation). The contents of antioxidants (ascorbic acid, tocopherol and glutathionc) and photosynthetic pigments were measured throughout the day. The contents of most compounds were found to follow a diurnal rhythm, with the maximum occurring at midday and the minimum during the night. It was not clear whether these fluctuations were temperature-dependent or light-dependent.
Analyses of the antioxidant spectrum in the same plant species at different altitudes (and thus under different environmental conditions: as altitude increases, for example, day temperature decreases and light intensity increases) revealed that the total amount of antioxidants increases as altitude increases. This enhancement was mainly due to ascorbic acid contents. Each plant species displayed a specific reaction to the increase in stress that accompanies an increase in altitude, resulting in a broad adaptation spectrum for these plants. The present study suggests that the combined effect of lower temperature and higher light intensity induces higher antioxidant contents.