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Tundra plants reacting strongly to climate change

Tundra plants reacting strongly to climate change

ITEX-Fläche Alexandra Fiord auf Ellesmere Island (Nunavut, Kanada) in der Hocharktis
Image: slf; Esther Frei

For 30 years, an international experiment has been documenting how tundra vegetation is changing as a result of climate change, at locations including the SLF-managed Val Bercla site. The latest results are summarised in a recent special issue of Arctic Science.

Both Arctic and alpine tundra vegetation is changing rapidly and dramatically in response to climate change. As a result of the rise in temperatures, plants are tending to grow taller and flower earlier, especially in the case of late-flowering species. This shortens the flowering season in the tundra as a whole, which in turn could have an impact on pollinating insects. However, the composition of plant species there is also changing. Thus, in many locations dwarf shrubs have spread to the detriment of mosses and lichens. As a result, the reflectivity (albedo) of the ground surface decreases – more sunlight is absorbed, leading to even greater local warming.

Henry, G.H.R.; Hollister, R.D.; Klanderud, K.; Björk, R.G.; Bjorkman, A.D.; Elphinstone, C.; Jónsdóttir, I.S.; Molau, U.; Petraglia, A.; Oberbauer, S.F.; Rixen, C.; Wookey, P.A., 2022: The International Tundra Experiment (ITEX): 30 years of research on tundra ecosystems. Arctic Science, 8, 3: 550-571. doi: 10.1139/as-2022-0041

contact: rixen@slf.ch