Department of Natural Sciences and Environmental Health, Faculty of Technology, Natural Sciences and Maritime Sciences, University of South-Eastern Norway, Gullbringvegen, Bø i Telemark, Telemark, Norway.
The boundary between the boreal and arctic biomes in northwest Europe has been a matter of debate for many years. Some authors consider that the boundary is marked by the northern limit of tree growth in the northernmost Norwegian mainland. In this study we have collected air and soil temperature data from 37 heath stands from northern Finnmark (71°N), the northernmost part of the Norwegian mainland, through Bear Island (74°N) in the Barents sea, to Adventsdalen (78)°N (in Spitsbergen) in Svalbard archipelago. In Finnmark, plots both south and north of the treeline were investigated. Vegetation and soil chemistry analyses were performed on the plots in Finnmark and Svalbard. Significant decreasing south-north trends in air and soil temperatures were observed from Finnmark to Spitsbergen. Soils in Finnmark were acidic and rich in organic matter, while those on Adventsdalen were basic and poor in organic matter. Vegetational analysis identified five communities: three in Finnmark and two on Adventsdalen. The communities in Finnmark had marked mutual similarities but were very different from those on Adventsdalen. No significant ecological differences between heaths south and north of the treeline in Finnmark were observed. Air and soil temperature variables in Finnmark were outside the recognized range for the arctic biome and inconsistent with the presence of permafrost both south and north of the treeline. A major difference between Finnmark and Spitsbergen was amount of soil frost and length of the growing season. Our results suggest that the boreal biome extends all the way to the north coast of mainland Norway; and previously used division of heaths in Finnmark into boreal, alpine and arctic biomes is not justified.