Eighteen years of ecological monitoring reveals multiple lines of evidence for tundra vegetation change

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DOI

  • Isla H. Myers-Smith, Edinburgh University
  • ,
  • Meagan M. Grabowski, Yukon College
  • ,
  • Haydn J.D. Thomas, Edinburgh University
  • ,
  • Sandra Angers-Blondin, Edinburgh University
  • ,
  • Gergana N. Daskalova, Edinburgh University
  • ,
  • Anne D. Bjorkman, Edinburgh University
  • ,
  • Andrew M. Cunliffe, Edinburgh University
  • ,
  • Jakob J. Assmann
  • Joseph S. Boyle, Edinburgh University
  • ,
  • Edward McLeod, Yukon Territorial Government
  • ,
  • Samuel McLeod, Yukon Territorial Government
  • ,
  • Ricky Joe, Yukon Territorial Government
  • ,
  • Paden Lennie, Yukon Territorial Government
  • ,
  • Deon Arey, Yukon Territorial Government
  • ,
  • Richard R. Gordon, Yukon Territorial Government
  • ,
  • Cameron D. Eckert, Yukon Territorial Government

The Arctic tundra is warming rapidly, yet the exact mechanisms linking warming and observed ecological changes are often unclear. Understanding mechanisms of change requires long-term monitoring of multiple ecological parameters. Here, we present the findings of a collaboration between government scientists, local people, park rangers, and academic researchers that provide insights into changes in plant composition, phenology, and growth over 18 yr on Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island, Canada. Qikiqtaruk is an important focal research site located at the latitudinal tall shrub line in the western Arctic. This unique ecological monitoring program indicates the following findings: (1) nine days per decade advance of spring phenology, (2) a doubling of average plant canopy height per decade, but no directional change in shrub radial growth, and (3) a doubling of shrub and graminoid abundance and a decrease by one-half in bare ground cover per decade. Ecological changes are concurrent with satellite-observed greening and, when integrated, suggest that indirect warming from increased growing season length and active layer depths, rather than warming summer air temperatures alone, could be important drivers of the observed tundra vegetation change. Our results highlight the vital role that long-term and multi-parameter ecological monitoring plays in both the detection and attribution of global change.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01351
JournalEcological Monographs
Volume89
Issue2
ISSN0012-9615
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2019

    Research areas

  • climate change, community composition, greening, growth, permafrost, phenology, tundra, warming

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