Adaptation of Alpine Pollinators in Times of Global Change

The alpine habitats in Bavaria are particularly affected by climate change: on the one hand, mean annual temperature is rising here more than twice as fast as on the global average. On the other hand, these habitats harbor a unique diversity of animal and plant species, including many cold-adapted organisms relying on the last cool refuges in higher elevations.  

Alpine species have different possibilities to cope with the rapid pace of climate warming in order to avoid extinction. Either they track their climatic niches by shifting their phenology or ranges of occurrence, or – alternatively – they adapt to the new abiotic conditions. As all species respond individually, previous interaction partners will get separated, with unknown consequences for species’ fitness and the ecosystem services they provide. Also the adaptability of most species is only poorly understood. 

The junior research group ADAPT seeks to understand how pollinator communities adapt to climatic changes. Pollinators play a key role in terrestrial ecosystem as they secure the reproduction and genetic diversity of most wild plants and the majority of crops. We will investigate how pollinator communities in the National Park Berchtesgaden have changed in the past 10 years, and how land use intensity contributed to these changes. We seek to identify pollinator traits, which react most sensitive to climate change and which might be used as an early-warning indicator in the future.

ADAPT will investigate the adaptability of pollinators from a molecular level up to a colony and community level. By transplanting entire bumblebee colonies from higher to lower elevations, we will investigate whether climate warming has an impact on the phenology, fitness and pollination efficiency of these important pollinator group. For this purpose, we develop “intelligent” bumblebee nest boxes, which record the colony’s weight, activity and phenological events highly automated. Transcriptome analyses of bumblebee species along the elevational gradient will reveal whether the adaptability of species is related to certain gene expression patterns.

Last but not least, we will implement our knowledge about pollinators’ adaptability into novel species-distribution models, that predict community composition and ecosystem services of pollinators in Bavaria more precisely. 

Principal investigator
Dr. Alice Claßen
Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology
Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Am Hubland
97074 Würzburg, Germany
Tel: +49 931 31 82793


  • Anpassungsstrategien von Bestäubern an den Klimawandel
    Claßen A, Kerner J, Maihoff F
    Klima-Report Bayern 2021: 171
  • A global synthesis reveals biodiversity-mediated benefits for crop production
    Dainese M, Martin EA, Aizen MA, (et al., et seq.) Classen A, Steffan-Dewenter I
    Science Advances 2019; 5

Doctoral Thesis

    Final Papers