Community and species-specific responses to simulated global change in two subarctic-alpine plant communities

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Chelsea J Little
Annika K Jägerbrand
Ulf Molau
Juha M Alatalo

Long-term observational studies have detected greening and shrub encroachment in the subarctic attributed to current climate change, while global change simulations have showed that community composition and productivity may shift drastically in arctic, subarctic, and alpine tundra plant communities in the future. However, responses to global change can be highly species- and contextdependent. We examined community-level and species-specific responses to a six-year factorial temperature and nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) amendment experiment in two alpine plant communities in northern Sweden: a species-poor dwarf shrub heath, and a more species-rich meadow. We hypothesized that abundance responses to global change would be variable within commonly defined vascular plant functional groups (e.g., forbs, evergreen shrubs, deciduous shrubs) and that new species would appear in experimental plots over time due to the ameliorated growing conditions. We found that within most functional groups, species were highly individualistic with respect to the global change simulation, particularly within the forbs, whereas within the shrubs, responses were neutral to negative and widely variable in magnitude. In the heath community the response of the graminoid functional group was driven almost entirely by the grass Calamagrostis lapponica, which increased in abundance by an order of magnitude in the combined temperature and nutrient treatment. Furthermore, community context was important for species' responses to the simulations. Abundance of the pan-arctic species Carex bigelowii and Vaccinium vitis-idaea responded primarily to the temperature treatment in the meadow community whereas the nutrient treatment had stronger effects in the heath community. Over six growing seasons, more new species appeared in the experimental plots than in control plots in the meadow community, whereas in the heath community only one new species appeared. Our results from two closely situated but different plant communities show that functional groups do not predict individual species responses to simulated global change, and that these responses depend to a large extent on pre-existing physical conditions as well as biotic interactions such as competition and facilitation. It may be difficult to apply general trends of global change responses to specific local communities. Copyright: © 2015 Little et al.

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