Why interdisciplinarity?

This project requires an interdisciplinary research and modelling framework to be successful, in that each of the four disciplines will not work independently but interact in terms of data and methods transfers. Furthermore, the interdisciplinary approach of the project requires that all data and analyses are gathered and performed in a same study area, benefiting from the strength of a closely accessible region already declared priority area for transdisciplinary research at the University of Lausanne (RechAlp). Besides developing trans- and multidisciplinary approaches between scientific disciplines, a reported need to build useful integrated models for management, IntegrAlp will also promote science-society dialog through the workshops with stakeholders, an activity that can also be seen as a form of transdisciplinary process. We believe that the research team, distributed between UNIL and UNINE but also between biology and environmental geosciences, is especially suited to reach the intended aims. Advanced skills in each of the four scientific domains will be necessary to ensure the highest quality data to be shared between modules and models. We also rely on an excellent network of national and international collaborations with institutions (see collaborations below) from which IntegrAlp will contribute to further expand the interdisciplinarity scope of the project.
Most importantly, this project will allow answering questions that are impossible to address without adopting an interdisciplinary approach. Is adding more and improved environmental variables improving our forecasts? How far can we improve models predicting the occurrence of plant species and vegetation types? How much stochasticity remains associated with species distributions? How sensitive is the vegetation to soil and landform types? Are there vastly
different ecological micro-conditions and associated plant species on rock glaciers and talus slopes, although they present similar surface textures? Are vegetation and permafrost occurring simultaneously? Is ground ice a limiting factor for the growth of vegetation in temperate mountain areas? IntegrAlp will also allow answering more applied questions, such as: will our traditional scenic mountain landscapes disappear, with potential impact on tourism? For instance, if the forest colonizes the open alpine areas on top of mountains, as could be expected, or if snow cover and permafrost shrinks. How will the water provision in the lowlands be affected if upward forest colonization and changed snow/ice distribution modifies water flows and
ultimately run off? Will mountain agriculture be affected by changes in soil properties?
Despite their critical importance for our future, these questions were surprisingly little investigated. We speculate that the lack of truly interdisciplinary studies is at the core of this unawareness. These questions can only be answered by an interdisciplinary collaboration between different disciplines within a same area. The aim of this project is to fill this research gap by focusing interdisciplinary competences on four ecosystem components and their associated ecosystem services within a single study area.