CLIMARBRE (2013-2018)

In the face of climate change, trees face three scenarios: adaptation, high-altitude migration or extinction. From 2013 to 2018, the Climarbre research project observed this phenomenon on the same altitudinal transect principle as the pioneering Mountland project, carried out between 2008 and 2013.

Prof. Alexandre Buttler

Prof. Alexandre Buttler

Laboratory of Ecological Systems, EPFL


The team of Alexandre Buttler, director of the Laboratory of Ecological Systems (ECOS) at EPFL, collected 200 young spruce and beech sprouts at an altitude of about 1400 m (Col du Marchairuz) and subjected them to milder and drier climates at lower altitudes, particularly at the most extreme site in Bois Chamblard. A precise analysis of the ecophysiology of these young trees, their growth, development rate and morphology of beech leaves and spruce needles has made it possible to determine the adaptive capacities of these two species, which are very present and economically important in Switzerland.

A thesis, scientific publications and master’s studies carried out at EPFL and the Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) have shown that beech has more “foliar plasticity” than spruce: its leaves change during the season, indicating a faster ability to acclimatise to the environmental conditions to which scientists have subjected them.

Climarbre and Mountland research has shown that maintaining protective trees in mid-mountain pastures helps to limit the effects of drought on soils and maintain crop production in grasslands, even during hot weather. Beech is a good candidate for this role.


Major publications in peer reviewed international journals (cited in ISI Web of Knowledge, JCR Science Edition):

  1. Sanginés de Cárcer, P., Vitasse, Y., Peñuelas, J., Jassey, V.E.J., Buttler, A., Signarbieux, C. 2018. Vapor-pressure deficit and extreme climatic variables limit tree growth. Glob Change Biol. 24: 1108-1122.
  2. Signarbieux, C., Toledano, E., Sangines de Carcer, P., Fu, Y.H., Schlaepfer, R., Buttler, A., Vitasse, Y. 2017. Asymmetric effects of cooler and warmer winters on beech phenology last beyond spring. Glob Change Biol. 23: 4569–4580.
  3. Sanginés de Cárcer, P., Signarbieux, C., Schlaepfer, R., Buttler, A., Vollenweider, P.  Responses of antinomic foliar traits to warming in beech and spruce saplings. Environmental and Experimental Botany 140 (2017) 128–140.

    Chapter in books:

    1. Arend M, Braun S, Buttler A,  Siegwolf RTW, Signarbieux C, Körner K. 2016. Ökophysiologie: Reaktionen von Waldbäumen auf Klimaänderungen. In: Pluess AR, Augustin S, Brang P (Réd), Forêts et changements climatiques. Eléments pour des stratégies d’adaptation. Office fédéral de l’Environnement OFEV/BAFU, Berne; Institut fédéral de recherches WSL, Birmensdorf; Haupt, Berne, Stuttgart, Vienne ISBN 978-3-258-07996-7 : p. 79-94.

          Other publications, reports and notes:

          1. Buttler, A.; Sanginés, P.; Vollenweider, P.; Signarbieux, C. 2016. Ecological response of beech and Norway spruce to climate change along an altitudinal gradient (CLIMARBRE). Final report in the FOEN/WSL research program forest and climate change.

          Major presse releases:

          1. La montagne à l’épreuve du changement. Le Monde, Planète, 26-27 février 2012 (P. Le Hir).
          2. Swiss soil reveals climate change in mountain ecosystems – Low-tech experiment produces accurate data on threat to plant biodiversity and may also help with carbon capture. The Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 20 March 2012 (P. Le Hir).

          Other presse releases:

          1. Pâturages soumis au régime sec. La Côte (Jocelyne Laurent), 2015.
          2. Wytweiden sind ein Gewinn für Menschen und Natur. Tierwelt 36, 3 sept. 2015 (Niklaus Salzmann).
          3. Les paysages jurassiens en mutation. La Côte 14 février 2013 (S. Guggenheim).
          4. Les pâturages boisés souffrent de la hausse des températures. Terre et Nature 30 juin 2011 (Alexander Zelenka).
          5. Les pâturages boisés à l’essai. Agriculture de Montagne, des solutions à l’étude sur le réchauffement climatique. Journal La Côte, 14 octobre 2011 (Bernard Messerli).
          6. Quand les arbres l’emportent sur les sapins. Medias et communication EPFL, Journal Flash, 02 :16-17, 15.02.2011 (S. Perrin).

          Film production:

          1. Movie “Georges et Marguerite” (Vacca helvetica et homo sapin) 2010, scénario by Buttler, A., Vandenberghe, Ch. and Corboz, B., realisation by Jéquier, C. et Weber, V.