Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics

Geodiversity of Alpine geo-ecosystems

22 June 2014

A first comprehensive inventory of the archive function of alpine landforms and the crucial role of geodiversity has been published by researchers from the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) in the book: 'Geodiversity of Vorarlberg and Liechtenstein'.

Geodiversity refers to the natural range of geological, geomorphological and soil features. In the newly published book geodiversity is not only a matter of unique elements in the landscape that adhere to these criteria, but it also takes into account how the landscape works as a whole in which people live and work. The addition of new techniques such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and laser ranging (LiDAR), has introduced a new range of capabilities to the classical geomorphological mapping. These techniques formed the basis for the construction of a detailed repository in which the ‘natural range of geomorphological features' is digitally stored.

Maps tell the story

The first section of the book discusses the use of newly developed methods to weight and rank the abiotic landscape; indicators such as scientific relevance, frequency of occurrence, vulnerability and disturbance form the main ingredients. Delineation of relevant landforms is based on classical hand-drawn maps, combined with semi-automatic methods to extract landform boundaries from Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) derived by LiDAR technology at very high resolution.

The second section of the book presents four case studies from areas in Austria near Lech, the Walgau and the Rhine Valley and the area near Malbun in Liechtenstein. These areas host landforms from which the Pleistocene landscape history whose response to climatic change can be reconstructed. These features include ice-marginal landforms of the Late-Glacial period, fossil rock-glaciers that reflect periglacial conditions at various topographical levels and pollen records stored in local peat deposits.

The book is complemented with many photos of local landscape situations; maps to explain geodiversity and its threats, e.g. as the result of winter tourism. In addition if has four enclosures and a legend at A3 format for selected municipalities that show the variety of geodiversity in these areas.

Scientific and societal relevance

Mountainous landforms are diverse while being highly vulnerable to human influence and can therefore irreversibly change by the adverse effects of (winter) tourism and other forms of human activities. At the same time these alpine ecosystems can host many threatened species.  They also serve as an important ecological refugee area for species threatened by projected climate change. The new book therefore adds an important new view on landscape and biodiversity research where geodiversity research supports and explains the changes that are taken place in ecosystems and habitats of various species.

From this view, land managers focusing on landscape conservation can benefit from the new insights and e.g. propose measures to reduce landscape vulnerability in order to better preserve their habitat function if an area’s geodiversity potential is taken into account.

Publication information

Seijmonsbergen, Arie C. , De Jong, Matheus G. G. , de Graaff, Leo W. S., Anders, Niels (2014). Geodiversität von Vorarlberg und Liechtenstein – Geodiversity of Vorarlberg and Liechtenstein. First edition, ISBN 978-3-258-07888-5. 304 pp.