Shrub densification has been widely reported across the circumpolar arctic and subarctic biomes in recent years. Long-term analyses based on dendrochronological techniques applied to shrubs have linked this phenomenon to climate change. However, the multi-stemmed structure of shrubs makes them difficult to sample and therefore leads to non-uniform sampling protocols among shrub ecologists, who will favor either root collars or stems to conduct dendrochronological analyses. Through a comparative study of the use of root collars and stems of Betula glandulosa, a common North American shrub species, we evaluated the relative sensitivity of each plant part to climate variables, and assessed if this sensitivity is consistent across three different types of environments in northwestern Québec, Canada (terrace, hilltop and snowbed). We found that root collars had greater sensitivity to climate than stems, and that these differences were maintained across the three types of environment. Growth at the root collar was best explained by spring precipitation and summer temperature, whereas stem growth showed weak and inconsistent responses to climate variables. Moreover, sensitivity to climate was not consistent among plant parts, as individuals having climate sensitive root collars did not tend to have climate sensitive stems. These differences in sensitivity of shrub parts to climate highlight the complexity of resource allocation in multi-stemmed plants. Whereas stem initiation and growth are driven by micro-environmental variables such as light availability and competition, root collars integrate the growth of all plant parts instead, rendering them less affected by mechanisms such as competition and more responsive to signals of global change. Although further investigations are required to determine the degree to which these findings are generalizable across the tundra biome, our results indicate that consistency and caution in the choice of plant parts are a key consideration for the success of future dendroclimatological studies on shrubs. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Arctic sea ice extent (SIE) is declining at an accelerating rate with a wide range of ecological consequences. However, determining sea ice effects on tundra vegetation remains a challenge. In this study, we examined the universality or lack thereof in tundra shrub growth responses to changes in SIE and summer climate across the Pan-Arctic, taking advantage of 23 tundra shrub-ring chronologies from 19 widely distributed sites (56°N to 83°N). We show a clear divergence in shrub growth responses to SIE that began in the mid-1990s, with 39% of the chronologies showing declines and 57% showing increases in radial growth (decreasers and increasers, respectively). Structural equation models revealed that declining SIE was associated with rising air temperature and precipitation for increasers and with increasingly dry conditions for decreasers. Decreasers tended to be from areas of the Arctic with lower summer precipitation and their growth decline was related to decreases in the standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index. Our findings suggest that moisture limitation, associated with declining SIE, might inhibit the positive effects of warming on shrub growth over a considerable part of the terrestrial Arctic, thereby complicating predictions of vegetation change and future tundra productivity.
Inference about future climate change impacts typically relies on one of three approaches: manipulative experiments, historical comparisons (broadly defined to include monitoring the response to ambient climate fluctuations using repeat sampling of plots, dendroecology, and paleoecology techniques), and space-for-time substitutions derived from sampling along environmental gradients. Potential limitations of all three approaches are recognized. Here we address the congruence among these three main approaches by comparing the degree to which tundra plant community composition changes (i) in response to in situ experimental warming, (ii) with interannual variability in summer temperature within sites, and (iii) over spatial gradients in summer temperature. We analyzed changes in plant community composition from repeat sampling (85 plant communities in 28 regions) and experimental warming studies (28 experiments in 14 regions) throughout arctic and alpine North America and Europe. Increases in the relative abundance of species with a warmer thermal niche were observed in response to warmer summer temperatures using all three methods; however, effect sizes were greater over broad-scale spatial gradients relative to either temporal variability in summer temperature within a site or summer temperature increases induced by experimental warming. The effect sizes for change over time within a site and with experimental warming were nearly identical. These results support the view that inferences based on space-for-time substitution overestimate the magnitude of responses to contemporary climate warming, because spatial gradients reflect long-term processes. In contrast, in situ experimental warming and monitoring approaches yield consistent estimates of the magnitude of response of plant communities to climate warming.
Warmer temperatures are accelerating the phenology of organisms around the world. Temperature sensitivity of phenology might be greater in colder, higher-latitude sites than in warmer regions, in part because small changes in temperature constitute greater relative changes in thermal balance at colder sites. To test this hypothesis, we examined up to 20 years of phenology data for 47 tundra plant species at 18 high-latitude sites along a climatic gradient. Across all species, the timing of leaf emergence and flowering were more sensitive to a given increase in summer temperature at colder than warmer high-latitude locations. A similar pattern was seen over time for the flowering phenology of a widespread species, Cassiope tetragona. These are among the first results highlighting differential phenological responses of plants across a climatic gradient, and suggest the possibility of convergence in flowering times and therefore an increase in gene flow across latitudes as the climate warms. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
In highly seasonal environments, timing of breeding of organisms is typically set to coincide with the period of highest resource availability. However, breeding phenology may not change at a rate sufficient to keep up with the rapid changes in the environment in the wake of climate change. The lack of synchrony between the phenology of consumers and that of their resources can lead to a phenomenon called trophic mismatch, which may have important consequences on the reproductive success of herbivores. We analysed long-term data (1991-2010) on climate, plant phenology and the reproduction of a long-distance arctic migrant, the greater snow goose (Chen caerulescens atlantica), in order to examine the effects of mismatched reproduction on the growth of young. We found that geese are only partially able to adjust their breeding phenology to compensate for annual changes in the timing of high quality food plants, leading to mismatches of up to 20 days between the two. The peak of nitrogen concentration in plants, an index of their nutritive quality for goslings, occurred earlier in warm springs with an early snow melt. Likewise, mismatch between hatch dates of young and date of peak nitrogen was more important in years with early snow melt. Gosling body mass and structural size at fledging was reduced when trophic mismatch was high, particularly when the difference between date of peak nitrogen concentration and hatching was greater than 9 days. Our results support the hypothesis that trophic mismatch can negatively affect the fitness of arctic herbivores, and that this is likely to be exacerbated by rising global temperatures. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.