Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services
Over the last 150 years, 224 animal and plant species have become or are presumed to have become extinct. Today, 40% of the evaluated animal species are included on the Red Lists; 34% of flowering plants and ferns have disappeared or are threatened; for fungi, bryophytes and lichens, the proportion is 32%, 42% and 41%, respectively. If species of flora and fauna that are near threatened are also considered, the proportion requiring support rises to 50%. The greatest increase in species numbers was observed between 1970 and 1990 however rates remained constant between 1997 and 2007, with new arrivals being offset by disappearances and marked changes occurring at the regional level. Switzerland has a rather low degree of endemism. Species diversity is particularly high on the northern and southern limits of the Alps due to altitudinal differences providing numerous habitats for plants and animals. Low diversity resulting from habitat destruction from large-scale intensive cultivation is observed in the Central Plateau.
Since the 20th century, genetic diversity in agriculture has declined due to intensified agricultural practices causing numerous traditional breeds and varieties to be threatened with extinction today. Since 1996, organic farming has steadily increased, being equivalent to 11% of the utilized agriculture area (UAA), however the surface of organically-managed land is shrinking slightly due to a slight decrease in agricultural areas. Forest area has grown by about 45% since the late 19th century and continues to expand. Between 1985 and 2006, forested area increased by 5% however only 3.2% of forest areas is protected which is much lower than the goal of 10% by 2030 as stated in the forest policy. In spite of increased values of wood stock in under-exploited forests, these areas are less biodiverse than intensively cultivated forests, illustrating the significance of sustainable local exploitation of forests to conserving biodiversity. Likewise, in spite of the mean number of vascular plants having increased slightly in the Northern Alps and the Jura due to nutrient-rich soils, homogenized plant communities have developed. Economic conditions continue to fundamentally shape the type of intensity of land use, explaining the differences in the state of biodiversity with respect to farmland and forests.
Slightly over half (54%) of Swiss watercourses are in an eco-morphologically natural/near-natural state, while the proportion of rivers with insufficient status varies regionally (15% in the Alps, 36% in the Jura, 38% in the Central Plateau) with the rate being highest (46%) in densely populated alpine valleys below 600 m asl. High-altitude zones of the Alps have maintained their biodiversity. A study focused on the genetic data of fish populations (salmonids) revealed that, despite intensive fish stocking programmes, indigenous biogeographic populations with genetic peculiarities continue to exist. Areas of raised bog and fen of national importance have been roughly maintained however the quality of the mires has clearly declined. Species diversity is generally higher in landscapes with dry meadows and pastures, particularly in terms of vascular plants and butterflies, than in normal landscapes. This feature is particularly distinct for the Southern Alps. Since 1945, it is estimated that dry meadows have declined by 90%.
Mountain ecosystems have been affected by human settlements for centuries. The breeding of domestic animals and the cultivation of crop plants, as well as various uses of forests and grasslands, have influenced the genetic diversity of the alpine region. Landscape elements like single tress, hedges and orchards have been systematically removed and important habitats for animals and plants have disappeared. Notably, the Eastern Central Alps have gained four breeding bird species. Changes in precipitation patterns and rising temperatures have resulted in the shrinking of glaciers and snow-covered areas, reducing the water holding capacity of mountain ranges. Nine glaciers lost on average 17.2 m of their ice thickness between 1967 and 2004. The flora on 37 mountain summits of altitudes between 2800 m and 3400 m were recorded at the beginning and end of the 20th century, demonstrating a strong increase in the number of plant species. On average, the number of species was about 62% higher but on some summits (Piz Mutèr, Beaufort) the plant diversity tripled. Also, today, subalpine and alpine plant species grow at an altitude 13 m higher than in 2001, on average. Species that are endemic to these areas or species that are bound to cold living conditions may be displaced upwards, can become “trapped” on the summits and will disappear as their habitat is reduced.
In 2007, the total production value (goods and services) of Swiss agriculture amounted to about CHF 10 913 million to which agricultural goods contributed CHF 9 982 million. Honeybees contribute importantly to the national economy by pollinating cultural and wild plants as well as producing honey, pollen and wax. The honeybee is threatened today which has reinforced research on apiculture. Forests are natural suppliers of water with 46% of Swiss groundwater zones existing in forests. Moreover, about 40% of Swiss forest area protects infrastructure against natural hazards such as avalanches, rockfalls, landslides, debris flow. In 2007, 60% of Swiss forests were certified according to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standard. Inland water resources provide many services: glaciers, surface water and groundwater store and provide water for drinking and irrigation; surface waters allow a catch of 1600 tonnes of fish a year; alluvial zones retain water and weaken flood events; waterside areas provide recreational venues; hydropower covers about 56% of the country’s electricity demand. Also, as much humid air is transported to the Alps due to its proximity to the Atlantic, Mediterranean and North Sea, precipitation in the winter is stored as ice and snow, and runs off in the spring and summer. This seasonal discharge from the Alps serves as a water tower for Europe as most water flows down when precipitation is lowest in the neighbouring countries. For more than a century, mountainous landscapes have also been of high value for the tourism industry.
Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)
Since 1960, the rate of human-induced extinction has clearly exceeded the natural rate. Pressures on biodiversity are due to intensive agriculture, increased urbanization, land abandonment, housing construction (e.g. in dry grassland areas), increased forest coverage, etc. It is also feared that impacts of climate change on forests might occur at a rate rendering natural adaptation through genetic processes or species migration difficult. Human populations have over centuries affected mountain ecosystems through activities linked to intensive agriculture, mechanization, landscape clearing and the uncontrolled spread of settlements. Nitrogen pollution is affecting more than 90% of forests, while high ozone concentrations close to the ground are worrisome because of their effects on plant cells. Inland water ecosystems are threatened by factors such as river control, dams and hydropower plants, water pollution, nutrient deposition, invasive alien species, land use changes resulting from agriculture, forestry and tourism. Although significant progress has been made to limit the input of nutrients into Swiss lakes, especially phosphorous, these benefits may however be at risk due to increased pollution from pesticides, pharmaceutical residues and other micropollutants, but also due to the warming of watercourses and the heavy invasion of alien species, as observed in the Rhine River. The effects of air pollutants resulting from high precipitation and atmospheric heavy metal deposition on bryophytes are most apparent in the southern Alps, sometimes with values as high as those found in highly industrial areas in Eastern Europe and the Ruhr basin.