Robert G. Björk
|Publicerad i||Journal of Ecology|
Institutionen för geovetenskaper
Institutionen för biologi och miljövetenskap
|Ämnesord||Calluna vulgaris, Empetrum nigrum, Betula nana, Mountain birch forest, Plant diversity, Plant-herbivore interactions, Reindeer, Shrub heath|
One of the most palpable effects of warming in Arctic ecosystems is shrub expansion above the tree line. However, previous studies have found that reindeer can influence plant community responses to warming and inhibit shrubification of the tundra. We revisited grazed (ambient) and ungrazed study plots (exclosures), at the southern as well as the northern limits of the Swedish alpine region, to study long-term grazing effects and vegetation changes in response to increasing temperatures between 1995 and 2011, in two vegetation types (shrub heath and mountain birch forest). In the field layer at the shrub heath sites, evergreen dwarf shrubs had increased in cover from 26% to 49% but were unaffected by grazing. Deciduous dwarf and tall shrubs also showed significant, though smaller, increases over time. At the birch forest sites, the increase was similar for evergreen dwarf shrubs (20-48%) but deciduous tall shrubs did not show the same consistent increase over time as in the shrub heath. The cover and height of the shrub layer were significantly greater in exclosures at the shrub heath sites, but no significant treatment effects were found on species richness or diversity. July soil temperatures and growing season thawing degree days (TDD) were higher in exclosures at all but one site, and there was a significant negative correlation between mean shrub layer height and soil TDD at the shrub heath sites. Synthesis. This study shows that shrub expansion is occurring rapidly in the Scandes mountain range, both above and below the tree line. Tall, deciduous shrubs had benefitted significantly from grazing exclosure, both in terms of cover and height, which in turn lowered summer soil temperatures. However, the overriding vegetation shift across our sites was the striking increase in evergreen dwarf shrubs, which were not influenced by grazing. As the effects of an increase in evergreen dwarf shrubs and more recalcitrant plant litter may to some degree counteract some of the effects of an increase in deciduous tall shrubs, herbivore influence on shrub interactions is potentially of great importance for shaping arctic shrub expansion and its associated ecosystem effects.