The alternative prey hypothesis predicts that the interaction between generalist predators and their main prey is a major driver of population dynamics of alternative prey species. In Fennoscandia, changes in climate and human land use are assumed to alter the dynamics of cyclic small rodents (main prey) and lead to increased densities and range expansion of an important generalist predator, the red fox Vulpes vulpes. In order to better understand the role of these potential changes in community structure on an alternative prey species, willow ptarmigan Lagopus lagopus, we analyzed nine years of population census data from SE Norway to investigate how community interactions affected their population dynamics. The ptarmigan populations showed no declining trend during the study period, and annual variations corresponded with marked periodic small rodent peaks and declines. Population growth and breeding success were highly correlated, and both demographic variables were influenced by an interaction between red fox and small rodents. Red foxes affected ptarmigan negatively only when small rodent abundance was low, which is in accordance with the alternative prey hypothesis. Our results confirm the important role of red fox predation in ptarmigan dynamics, and indicate that if small rodent cycles are disrupted, this may lead to decline in ptarmigan and other alternative prey species due to elevated predation pressure.
Ammonium nitrate and calcium ammonium nitrate are the most commonly used straight nitrogen fertilisers in Europe, accounting for 43% of the total nitrogen used for fertilisers. They are both produced in a similar way; carbonate can be added as a last step to produce calcium ammonium nitrate. The environmental impact, fossil energy input and land use from using gasified biomass (cereal straw and short rotation willow (Salix) coppice) as feedstock in ammonium nitrate production were studied in a cradle-to-gate evaluation using life cycle assessment methodology. The global warming potential in the biomass systems was only 22-30% of the impact from conventional production using natural gas. The eutrophication potential was higher for the biomass systems due to nutrient leaching during cultivation, while the acidification was about the same in all systems. The primary fossil energy use was calculated to be 1.45 and 1.37MJ/kg nitrogen for Salix and straw, respectively, compared to 35.14MJ for natural gas. The biomass production was assumed to be self-supporting with nutrients by returning part of the ammonium nitrate produced together with the ash from the gasification. For the production of nitrogen from Salix, it was calculated that 3914kg of nitrogen can be produced every year from 1ha, after that 1.6% of the produced nitrogen has been returned to the Salix production. From wheat straw, 1615kg of nitrogen can be produced annually from 1ha, after that 0.6% of the nitrogen has been returned.
Recently, there have been several studies using open top chambers (OTCs) or cloches to examine the response of Arctic plant communities to artificially elevated temperatures. Few, however, have investigated multitrophic systems, or the effects of both temperature and vertebrate grazing treatments on invertebrates. This study investigated trophic interactions between an herbivorous insect (Sitobion calvulum, Aphididae), a woody perennial host plant (Salix polaris) and a selective vertebrate grazer (barnacle geese, Branta leucopsis). In a factorial experiment, the responses of the insect and its host to elevated temperatures using open top chambers (OTCs) and to three levels of goose grazing pressure were assessed over two summer growing seasons (2004 and 2005). OTCs significantly enhanced the leaf phenology of Salix in both years and there was a significant OTC by goose presence interaction in 2004. Salix leaf number was unaffected by treatments in both years, but OTCs increased leaf size and mass in 2005. Salix reproduction and the phenology of flowers were unaffected by both treatments. Aphid densities were increased by OTCs but unaffected by goose presence in both years. While goose presence had little effect on aphid density or host plant phenology in this system, the OTC effects provide interesting insights into the possibility of phenological synchrony disruption. The advanced phenology of Salix effectively lengthens the growing season for the plant, but despite a close association with leaf maturity, the population dynamics of the aphid appeared to lack a similar phenological response, except for the increased population observed.
Extreme temperature events are projected to increase in frequency in a future climate. As successive extremes could occur more frequently, patches of vulnerable tundra vegetation were exposed to two consecutive heat waves (HWs) of 10 d each, with a 5-d recovery period in between. Surface temperatures during the HWs were increased approximately 6 degrees C using infrared irradiation sources. In three of the four target species (Pyrola grandiflora, Polygonum viviparum and Carex bigelowii), plant conditions improved upon the first exposure. Depending on species, leaf relative growth, leaf chlorophyll content or maximal photochemical efficiency was increased. In P. grandiflora the positive effects of the heat on the photosynthetic apparatus led to augmented net photosynthesis. By contrast, Salix arctica responded mainly negatively, indicating species-specific responses. During the second HW, leaf mortality suddenly increased, indicating that the heat stress induced by the extreme events lasted too long and negatively influenced the species resistance to high temperature. After the HWs, when plants were exposed to (low) ambient temperatures again, plant performance deteriorated further, indicating possible loss of cold resistance.
Terrestrial Ecology Section, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, DK -2100 Copenhagen E, Denmark; Center for Permafrost (CENPERM), Department of Geoscience and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen, Øster Voldgade 10, DK -1350 Copenhagen K, Denmark.
Emissions of biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs) from terrestrial ecosystems are important for the atmospheric chemistry and the formation of secondary organic aerosols, and may therefore influence the climate. Global warming is predicted to change patterns in precipitation and plant species compositions, especially in arctic regions where the temperature increase will be most pronounced. These changes are potentially highly important for the BVOC emissions but studies investigating the effects are lacking. The aim of this study was to investigate the quality and quantity of BVOC emissions from a high arctic soil moisture gradient extending from dry tundra to a wet fen. Ecosystem BVOC emissions were sampled five times in the July-August period using a push-pull enclosure technique, and BVOCs trapped in absorbent cartridges were analyzed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Plant species compositions were estimated using the point intercept method. In order to take into account important underlying ecosystem processes, gross ecosystem production, ecosystem respiration and net ecosystem production were measured in connection with chamber-based BVOC measurements. Highest emissions of BVOCs were found from vegetation communities dominated by Salix arctica and Cassiope tetragona, which had emission profiles dominated by isoprene and monoterpenes, respectively. These results show that emissions of BVOCs are highly dependent on the plant cover supported by the varying soil moisture, suggesting that high arctic BVOC emissions may affect the climate differently if soil water content and plant cover change.
Whilst life cycle assessment (LCA) boundaries are expanded to account for negative indirect consequences of bioenergy such as indirect land use change (ILUC), ecosystem services such as water purification sometimes delivered by perennial bioenergy crops are typically neglected in LCA studies. Consequential LCA was applied to evaluate the significance of nutrient interception and retention on the environmental balance of unfertilised energy willow planted on 50-m riparian buffer strips and drainage filtration zones in the Skåne region of Sweden. Excluding possible ILUC effects and considering oil heat substitution, strategically planted filter willow can achieve net global warming potential (GWP) and eutrophication potential (EP) savings of up to 11.9 Mg CO2e and 47 kg PO4e ha(-1) year(-1), respectively, compared with a GWP saving of 14.8 Mg CO2e ha(-1) year(-1) and an EP increase of 7 kg PO4e ha(-1) year(-1) for fertilised willow. Planting willow on appropriate buffer and filter zones throughout Skåne could avoid 626 Mg year(-1) PO4e nutrient loading to waters.
The recovery potential of endangered species is limited by the high prevalence of human-modified habitats, while effective in situ conservation strategies to identify and restore disturbed habitat within species ranges are lacking. Our goal was to determine the impact of human disturbance on the endangered endemic Barrens willow (Salix jejuna) to provide science-based protocols for future restoration of disturbed habitats; a key component of conservation and recovery plans for many rare plant species. Our study examined differences in substrate (e.g., % total plant cover, % species cover, substrate type) and vegetation in naturally- (via frost activity) vs human-disturbed limestone barrens (Newfoundland, Canada), across the entire species range of the endangered Barrens willow. There were distinct differences in substrate conditions and vegetation community structure between naturally- and human-disturbed limestone barrens habitat throughout the narrow range of this endemic willow. Human-disturbed sites are more homogeneous and differ significantly from the naturally-disturbed sites having a much coarser substrate (30% more gravel) with less fine grained sands, less exposed bedrock, decreased soil moisture, increased nitrogen content, and reduced phosphorus content. Substrate differences can inhibit return to the natural freeze-thaw disturbance regime of the limestone barrens, negatively affecting long-term persistence of this, and other rare plants. The structure of associated vegetation (specifically woody species presence) negatively affected willow abundance but was not linked to disturbance type. Human-disturbed sites are potential candidates for endangered plant recovery habitat if natural ecosystem processes, vegetation community structure, and habitat heterogeneity are restored, thereby supporting the establishment of long term viable populations.
In some ecosystems, vertebrate herbivores increase the nutritional quality and biomass of their food source through repeated grazing, thereby manipulating their environment to support higher densities of animals. We tested whether ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus and L. muta) are capable of regulating the nutritional quality, abundance, and availability of feltleaf willow (Salix alaxensis) buds using a simulated browsing experiment and a feeding preference study with wild birds. Simulated ptarmigan browsing resulted in smaller buds, but greater numbers of buds per shoot. Furthermore, browsing altered the morphology of willow branches such that buds were at higher densities and closer to snow level compared to unbrowsed controls. Browsing increased the number of willows with accessible buds (buds within 50 cm of snow level) from 55 to 89%, and increased total accessible bud biomass from 113 ± 30 to 129 ± 50 mg/ramet. Browsing did not affect bud nitrogen or carbon concentration and slightly reduced protein precipitation capacity (tannins) in buds the following winter, indicating that ptarmigan browsing does not induce a defensive response in this species. When branches of broomed (previously browsed) and unbroomed willows were placed in the snow at equal heights, ptarmigan showed no preference for either type; however, they obtained more buds from broomed willows. Increased accessibility and density of willow buds caused by browsing has the potential to increase habitat carrying capacity, thereby supporting higher densities of ptarmigan.
Climatic warming is associated with organisms breeding earlier in the season than is typical for their species. In some species, however, response to warming is more complex than a simple advance in the timing of all life history events preceding reproduction. Disparities in the extent to which different components of the reproductive phenology of organisms vary with climatic warming indicate that not all life history events are equally responsive to environmental variation. Here, we propose that our understanding of phenological response to climate change can be improved by considering entire sequences of events comprising the aggregate life histories of organisms preceding reproduction. We present results of a two-year warming experiment conducted on 33 individuals of three plant species inhabiting a low-arctic site. Analysis of phenological sequences of three key events for each species revealed how the aggregate life histories preceding reproduction responded to warming, and which individual events exerted the greatest influence on aggregate life history variation. For alpine chickweed (Cerastium alpinum), warming elicited a shortening of the duration of the emergence stage by 2.5 days on average, but the aggregate life history did not differ between warmed and ambient plots. For gray willow (Salix glauca), however, all phenological events monitored occurred earlier on warmed than on ambient plots, and warming reduced the aggregate life history of this species by 22 days on average. Similarly, in dwarf birch (Betula nana), warming advanced flower bud set, blooming, and fruit set and reduced the aggregate life history by 27 days on average. Our approach provides important insight into life history responses of many organisms to climate change and other forms of environmental variation. Such insight may be compromised by considering changes in individual phenological events in isolation.
The High Arctic region has experienced marked climate fluctuations within the past decades strongly affecting tundra shrub growth. However, the spatial variability in dwarf shrub growth responses in this remote region remains largely unknown. This study characterizes temperature sensitivity of radial growth of two willow dwarf shrub species from two distinct High Arctic sites. The dwarf shrub Salix arctica from Northern Greenland (82°N), which has a dry continental High Arctic climate, is linked with Salix polaris from central Svalbard (78° N), which experiences a more oceanic High Arctic climate with relatively mild winters. We found similar positive and significant relationships between annual growth of both Salix dwarf shrub species and July-August air temperatures (1960-2010), despite different temperature regimes and shrub growth rates at the two sites. Also, Salix dwarf shrub growth was significantly negatively correlated with Arctic and North Atlantic Oscillation (AO/NAO) indices; S. arctica from Northern Greenland was negatively correlated with previous autumn (AO index) and current summer AO and NAO indices, and S. polaris with the summer NAO index. The results highlight the importance of both local and regional climatic drivers for dwarf willow shrub growth in harsh polar desert habitats and are a step in the direction of identifying and scaling changes in plant growth across the High Arctic.