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Species-specific responses of an alpine plant community under simulated environmental change

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Question: How will warming and increased nutrient availability affect individual alpine plant species abundances (non-vascular and vascular) and community composition?

Location: Dryas octopetala heath at alpine Finse, southern Norway.

Methods: Four years with experimental warming (open top chambers) and nutrient addition. Detrended Correspondence Analysis and Redundancy Analysis were used to examine changes in community composition. GLM-ANOVA was used to examine treatment effects on individual species.

Results: Warming alone decreased the abundance of some Carex and bryophyte species, but did not affect community composition. Nutrient addition and warming combined with nutrient addition increased the abundance of high stature species, such as grasses (Festuca spp., Poa alpina) and some forbs (e.g. Cerastium alpinum, Potentilla crantzii). Low stature forbs (e.g. Tofieldia pusilla), a lycophyte (Selaginella selaginoides) and most bryophytes and lichens decreased in abundance. After four years of warming combined with nutrient addition 57% of the mosses, 57% of the liverworts and 44% of the lichens had completely disappeared. Community composition changed significantly, with the largest shift when warming and nutrient addition was combined.

Conclusions: Tall species may expand at the expense of low stature species in the alpine region if temperature and soil nutrient content increase. Contrasting responses between grasses and sedges, and species-specific responses within forbs, sedges and shrubs, within and across alpine and arctic sites, suggest that the use of functional types in environmental change research may mask important information on individual species responses. The response of one species within a functional type cannot predict the response of another.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-06-01

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