Responses of arctic tundra to experimental and observed changes in climate
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): F. Stuart Chapin III; Gaius R. Shaver; Anne E. Giblin; Knute J. Nadelhoffer; James A. Laundre
Publication Year: 1995

Cataloging Information

  • arctic
  • climate change
  • diversity
  • global warming
  • light
  • N - nitrogen
  • phosphorus
  • productivity
  • temperature
  • tundra
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: March 16, 2017
FRAMES Record Number: 3758


We manipulated light, temperature, and nutrients in moist tussock tundra near Toolik Lake, Alaska to determine how global changes in these parameters might affect community and ecosystem processes. Some of these manipulations altered nutrient availability, growth-form composition, net primary production, and species richness in less then a decade, indicating that arctic vegetation at this site is sensitive to climatic change. In general, short-term (3-yr) responses were poor predictors of longer term (9-yr) changes in community composition. The longer term responses showed closer correspondence to patterns of vegetation distribution along environmental gradients. Nitrogen and phosphorus availability tended to increase in response to elevated temperature, reflecting reduced nutrient uptake by vegetation. Nutrient addition increased biomass and production of deciduous shrubs but reduced growth of evergreen shrubs and nonvascular plants. Light attenuation reduced biomass of all growth forms. Elevated temperature enhanced shrub production but reduced production of nonvascular plants. These contrasting responses to temperature increase and to nutrient addition by different growth forms 'canceled out' at the ecosystem level, buffering changes in ecosystem characteristics such as biomass, production, and nutrient uptake. The major effect of elevated temperature was to speed plant response to changes in soil resources and, in the long term (9-yr), to increase nutrient availability through changes in N mineralization. Species within a growth form were similar to one another in their responses to changes in resources (light or nutrients) but showed no consistent response to elevated temperature. Species richness was reduced 30-50% by temperature and nutrient treatments, due to loss of less abundant species. Declines in diversity occurred disproportionately in forbs, which are important for animal nutrition, and in mosses, which maintain soil thermal regime. There was no increased abundance of initially rare species in response to any treatment. During our 9-yr study (the warmest decade on record in the region), biomass of one dominant tundra species unexpectedly changed in control plots in the direction predicted by our experiments and by Holocene pollen records. This suggests that regional climatic warming may already be altering the species composition of the Alaskan arctic tundra.

Online Link(s):
Chapin III, F. Stuart; Shaver, Gaius R.; Giblin, Anne E.; Nadelhoffer, Knute J.; Laundre, James A. 1995. Responses of arctic tundra to experimental and observed changes in climate. Ecology 76(3):694-711.