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Potential effects of climate change on plant species in the Faroe Islands


Correspondence: Anna Maria Fosaa, Department of Botany, Faroese Museum of Natural History, Debesartrød, FO-100 Tórshavn, Faroe Islands. E-mail:


Aim  To identify the effect of climate change on selected plant species representative of the main vegetation types in the Faroe Islands. Due to a possible weakening of the North Atlantic Current, it is difficult to predict whether the climate in the Faroe Islands will be warmer or colder as a result of global warming. Therefore, two scenarios are proposed. The first scenario assumes an increase in summer and winter temperature of 2 °C, and the second a decrease in summer and winter temperature of 2 °C.

Location  Temperate, low alpine and alpine areas in the northern and central part of the Faroe Islands.

Methods  The responses of 12 different plant species in the Faroe Islands were tested against measured soil temperature, expressed as Tmin, Tmax, snow cover and growing degree days (GDD), using generalised linear modelling (GLM).

Results  The tolerance to changes in winter soil temperature (0.3–0.8 °C) was found to be lower than the tolerance to changing summer soil temperature (0.7–1.0 °C), and in both cases lower than the predicted climate changes.

Conclusions  The species most affected by a warming scenario are those that are found with a limited distribution restricted to the uppermost parts of the mountains, especially Salix herbacea, Racomitrium fasciculare, and Bistorta vivipara. For other species, the effect will mainly be a general upward migration. The most vulnerable species are those with a low tolerance, especially Calluna vulgaris, and also Empetrum nigrum, and Nardus stricta.

 If the climate in the Faroe Islands should become colder, the most vulnerable species are those at low altitudes. A significantly lower temperature would be expected to produce a serious reduction in the extent of Vaccinium myrtillus and Galium saxatilis. Species like Empetrum nigrum, Nardus stricta, and Calluna vulgaris may also be vulnerable. In any case, these species can be expected to migrate downwards.