Agro-climatic profiles of summer mountain pastures in the French Alps: towards a monitoring tool to contribute to climate risk assessment

Deléglise, Claire ; François, Hugues ; Dodier, Hermann ; Crouzat, Emilie ; Samacoïts, Raphaëlle ; Morin, Samuel ; Bray, Frédéric ; Nettier, Baptiste

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<p align=justify>Summer mountain pastures (also called alpages) are a central element for many agro-pastoral livestock systems in the alpine region, by providing the feedstock for herds during the summer transhumance. However, vegetation phenology and productivity in mountain pastures are increasingly affected by climate hazards exacerbated by climate change, such as early snow removal, late frost events, or droughts. Difficulties can then arise to match animal demand with forage resource on alpages and, in the long term, threaten the sustainable management of these highly multifunctional socio-ecological systems. To help agro-pastoral actors adapt, an essential step is to quantify the risk of impacts on the forage resource, due to an increased occurrence or intensity of climate hazards. Exposure to climate hazards on alpages is defined locally by topographic aspects in combination with the broader influence of the regional climate. Our work therefore aimed at providing a tailored assessment of potential climate risk for the forage resource at the individual scale of each alpage in the French Alps. To this end, we developed agro-climatic indicators based on atmospheric and snow cover data accounting for geographic and topographic conditions, and applied them to a database providing unique spatially explicit information at the alpage level. For the first time, we introduce a description of agro-climatic conditions and provide a classification of agro-climatic profiles of alpages in the French Alps, ranging from low to high potential risk for the forage resource, mainly following a North-South gradient combined with altitude. We also bring insights on the evolutions of the climate risk with climate change and discuss management implications for agro-pastoral livestock systems using alpages. We finally present a web-based visualization tool that aim at communicating agro-climatic profiles and their evolution to practitioners and at assisting decision makers in understanding climate-related risks on the alpages of the French Alps.</p>
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