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Shrubs in Space and Time – Alpine and Artic shrub dendroecology: Factors influencing shrub growth and population dynamics in tundra ecosystems
Responsible organisation
2013 (English)Other (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The Arctic has experienced a pronounced increase in air temperature over the last four decades, with an average increase of 0.4 °C per decade and thus an increase of almost the double rate than that of temperate regions. Remote sensing studies and repeat photography of historical images have shown large-scale increases of plant productivity in tundra ecosystems over the same time period. A pronounced size, abundance and biomass increase of shrubs has been observed. This so called shrub expansion has important repercussions for the vegetation, the animals, the soil, the energy and the carbon balance of the Arctic tundra and on regional and global climate. As the comparison of historical photographs with recent photographs has shown, this shrub expansion occurs on different temporal and spatial scales with areas of strong increase in shrub cover (expanding patches) and areas without noticeable changes in shrub vegetation (stable patches). While remote sensing approaches for the detection of changes in vegetation are limited in their temporal coverage and so far also in their resolution, historical photographs with high resolution are often not available. Experimental studies have shown that an increase in nutrients or temperature often resulted in increased shrub biomass, but findings were partly contradictory, referred to short term observations and usually confined to small areas. To bridge the gap between spatially limited plot-scale experiments and global large-scale assessment of plant productivity by satellite derived pictures, dendrochronology was used in this thesis to analyze the drivers for and the rate of shrub growth of different widespread evergreen and deciduous shrub species in alpine and arctic tundra and to reconstruct historic environmental conditions. In detail, this doctoral thesis was conducted to study shrub growth and to assess the applicability of traditional dendrochronological methods on shrubs that had been so far mainly applied to trees and to test whether shrubs differed morphologically from trees. Further, I was determined to look for evidence for a possible Scandinavian shrub range expansion and to assess which climatic factors – temperature, precipitation or snow – influenced shrub growth significantly. Moreover, we aimed to find the reason for the observed heterogeneity of the shrub expansion on the landscape and its relevance for the three most common shrubs on the Alaskan tundra. The methods applied followed the routines usually applied for dendrochronological analyses of treerings, with the exception that usually several stem discs of the main stem were analyzed and frequently had to be prepared with help of a microtome as thin-sections, that were stained and sealed on a coverglass before annual shrubrings were measured. The averaged shrubring widths were then compared with environmental factors through correlation and regression methods. This thesis gives first a general introduction to climate change in the Arctic, shrub expansion on the tundra, the scientific discipline of dendrochronology or -ecology on shrubs and its development, the main research questions and the thesis outline. Then seven research papers are presented and the main results and conclusions are synthesized and discussed and finally possible venues of future research are outlined. The most important insights gained from this thesis are the following: I) Dendroecological methods can be applied to shrubs. Insights into shrub morphology have been gained by detecting an interesting mechanism for coping with adverse environmental conditions of both, trees and shrubs that can save resources by confining the production of wood to the upper parts of the stem. II) Further, I found evidence for a shrub expansion in Scandinavia. III) I could establish the causal link between the current climate warming and increased radial and vertical shrub growth by identifying summer temperature as main driver for shrub growth. IV) Results from the Alaskan tundra indicate a strongly adverse role of snow for shrub growth in stable patches, refuting the popular snow-shrub-microbe hypothesis for this extensive area across species. The differing influence of snow is likely linked to the presence of permafrost and shallow active layers and the snow’s contribution to moist or even anoxic conditions in Alaska. V) Furthermore, we found that the different rates and the spatial heterogeneity of shrub expansion are accompanied by strong differences in the surrounding vegetation composition and the soil parameters of expanding (accustomed to more favorable conditions) and stable shrub patches. VI) These differences are predisposed by shrub patch position within the landscape, comprising different levels and rates of disturbance. VII) Additionally, shrub ring records were successfully used as natural archives to model past temperature dynamics respectively summer glacier mass balance with high accuracy. VIII) Finally, a synthesis of the climate-growth relationships of shrubs of more than 25 sites around the Arctic as joined effort together with other leading shrub researchers supports the presence of a circumpolar shrub expansion, gives recommendations for methods used in shrub dendroecology and lays out future research directions. The findings of my dissertation research show that the analysis of shrubs by dendroecological methods yields highly interesting results, and they greatly improved our understanding of factors that influence individual shrub growth, the reconstruction of earlier environmental conditions as well as the reconstruction and assessment of plant population dynamics.

Place, publisher, year, pages
2013.
Keywords [en]
Strauch, Vegetationsökologie, Populationsdynamik, Klimawandel, Strauchwachstum, Jahresring, shrubecology, tundra vegetation, range expansion, climate change, shrub growth, tree ring
National Category
Natural Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:polar:diva-8033OAI: oai:DiVA.org:polar-8033DiVA, id: diva2:1285950
Available from: 2019-02-05 Created: 2019-02-05 Last updated: 2019-02-06

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https://epub.ub.uni-greifswald.de/frontdoor/index/index/docId/1283https://nbn-resolving.org/urn:nbn:de:gbv:9-001771-3
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