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Effects of environmental perturbations on abundance of subarctic plants after three, seven and ten years of treatments

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Analyses of changes in vegetation were carried out after three, seven and ten years of fertilizer addition, warming and light attenuation in two subarctic, alpine dwarf shrub heaths. One site was just above the tree line, at ca 450 m a.s.l., and the other at a much colder fell-field at ca 1150 m altitude. The aim was to investigate how the treatments affected the abundance of different species and growth forms over time, including examinations of transient changes. Grasses, which increased in abundance by fertilizer addition, and cryptogams, which, by contrast, decreased by fertilizer addition and warming, were the most sensitive functional groups to the treatments at both sites. Nutrient addition exerted a stronger and more consistent effect than both shading and warming. Warming at the fell-field had slightly greater effect than at the warmer tree line with an increase in deciduous shrubs. The decreased abundance of mosses and lichens to fertilizer addition and/or warming was most likely an indirect treatment effect, caused by competition through increased abundance and overgrowth of grasses. Such changes in species composition are likely to alter decomposition rates and the water and energy exchange at the soil surface. We observed few, if any, transient effects of declining responses during the 10 yr of treatments. Instead, there were many cumulative effects of the treatments for all functional groups and many interactions between time and treatment, suggesting that once a change in community composition is triggered, it will continue with unchanged or accelerated rate for a long period of time.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2001

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