In the high mountains, plants and animals are in a tight corner. Unlike temperate species, they have fewer capabilities for coping with change, yet the ecological 'islands' they inhabit are shrinking as global warming goes on.
In this article, Kevin Krajick says that research is now indicating a grim future for alpine ecosystems. As warming encourages species from the lower slopes to invade, they outcompete creatures at the top. Populations of butterflies, low-growing alpine plants and aquatic species have all suffered, while pikas — small mammals with limited adaptive ability — are dying in droves.
Not all the changes are bad, however. Near the Quelccaya icecap in the Peruvian Andes, for instance, researchers report that 54 alpine plant species, 23 lichens and the world's highest known amphibians have moved into areas where the glacier has melted.
Reference: Science 303, 1600 (2004)