Resistance and change in a High Arctic ecosystem, NW Greenland: Differential sensitivity of ecosystem metrics to 15 years of experimental warming and wetting

Robert Jespersen, Alan Joshua Leffler, Maria Väisänen, Jeffrey M. Welker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

Dramatic increases in air temperature and precipitation are occurring in the High Arctic (>70°N), yet few studies have characterized the long-term responses of High Arctic ecosystems to the interactive effects of experimental warming and increased rain. Beginning in 2003, we applied a factorial summer warming and wetting experiment to a polar semidesert in northwest Greenland. In summer 2018, we assessed several metrics of ecosystem structure and function, including plant cover, greenness, ecosystem CO2 exchange, aboveground (leaf, stem) and belowground (litter, root, soil) carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) concentrations (%) and pools, as well as leaf and soil stable isotopes (δ13 C and δ15 N). Wetting induced the most pronounced changes in ecosystem structure, accelerating the expansion of Salix arctica cover by 370% and increasing aboveground C, N, and biomass pools by 94%-101% and root C, N, and biomass pools by 60%-122%, increases which coincided with enhanced net ecosystem CO2 uptake. Further, wetting combined with warming enhanced plot-level greenness, whereas in isolation neither wetting nor warming had an effect. At the plant level, the effects of warming and wetting differed among species and included warming-linked decreases in leaf N and δ15 N in S. arctica, whereas leaf N and δ15 N in Dryas integrifolia did not respond to the climate treatments. Finally, neither plant- nor plot-level C and N allocation patterns nor soil C, N, δ13 C, or δ15 N concentrations changed in response to our manipulations, indicating that these ecosystem metrics may resist climate change, even in the longer term. In sum, our results highlight the importance of summer precipitation in regulating ecosystem structure and function in arid parts of the High Arctic, but they do not completely refute previous findings of resistance in some High Arctic ecosystem properties to climate change.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Change Biology
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Dec 2021
MoEC publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Keywords

  • polar semidesert
  • stable isotopes
  • tundra
  • vegetation change
  • carbon
  • CO2 flux
  • ecosystem

Field of science

  • Geosciences

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