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Contrasting impacts of reindeer grazing in two tundra grasslands

Journal article
Authors Tage Vowles
Cajsa Lovehav
Ulf Molau
Robert G. Björk
Published in Environmental Research Letters
Volume 12
Issue 3
ISSN 1748-9318
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Earth Sciences
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Language en
Keywords deciduous shrubs, evergreen shrubs, grass heath, herb meadow, plant community, reindeer grazing, tundra
Subject categories Terrestrial ecology


Plant communities in Arctic and alpine areas are changing due to higher temperatures and longer vegetation periods and it is uncertain how this will affect plant-herbivore dynamics. For instance, relatively fast-growing, deciduous shrub species that are the most responsive to warming may also be the most targeted by herbivores such as reindeer, giving less palatable evergreen shrubs the chance to expand. Using herbivore exclosures, we have studied how two grasslands with contrasting nutrient and moisture regimes, a dry, nutrient-poor alpine grass heath and a wet, productive low herb meadow, changed between 1995 and 2012, in grazed and ungrazed conditions. At the grass heath, evergreen low shrub abundance had more than doubled, regardless of grazer treatment, whereas at the low herb meadow, evergreen shrubs had increased only outside exclosures while deciduous tall shrubs and forbs were significantly more abundant inside exclosures. Deciduous tall shrubs were also significantly taller in exclosures. These contrasting findings suggest that the impact of herbivores is to a great deal determined by their influence on competitive interactions between plant species, and therefore depends on the underlying composition of the plant community. Consequently, as the balance in these competitive interactions is shifting due to climate warming, we conclude that the potential of herbivory to influence this balance is considerable yet highly site dependent.

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