Plant community responses to experimental warming across the tundra biome

Marilyn D. Walker, C. Henrik Wahren, Robert D. Hollister, Greg H.R. Henry*, Lorraine E. Ahlquist, Juha M. Alatalo, M. Syndonia Bret-Harte, Monika P. Calef, Terry V. Callaghan, Amy B. Carroll, Howard E. Epstein, Ingibjörg S. Jónsdóttir, Julia A. Klein, Borgb̧ór Magnússon, Ulf Molau, Steven F. Oberbauer, Steven P. Rewa, Clare H. Robinson, Gaius R. Shaver, Katharine N. SudingCatharine C. Thompson, Anne Tolvanen, Ørjan Totland, P. Lee Turner, Craig E. Tweedie, Patrick J. Webber, Philip A. Wookey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

899 Citations (Scopus)


Recent observations of changes in some tundra ecosystems appear to be responses to a warming climate. Several experimental studies have shown that tundra plants and ecosystems can respond strongly to environmental change, including warming; however, most studies were limited to a single location and were of short duration and based on a variety of experimental designs. In addition, comparisons among studies are difficult because a variety of techniques have been used to achieve experimental warming and different measurements have been used to assess responses. We used metaanalysis on plant community measurements from standardized warming experiments at 11 locations across the tundra biome involved in the International Tundra Experiment. The passive warming treatment increased plant-level air temperature by 1-3°C, which is in the range of predicted and observed warming for tundra regions. Responses were rapid and detected in whole plant communities after only two growing seasons. Overall, warming increased height and cover of deciduous shrubs and graminoids, decreased cover of mosses and lichens, and decreased species diversity and evenness. These results predict that warming will cause a decline in biodiversity across a wide variety of tundra, at least in the short term. They also provide rigorous experimental evidence that recently observed increases in shrub cover in many tundra regions are in response to climate warming. These changes have important implications for processes and interactions within tundra ecosystems and between tundra and the atmosphere.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1342-1346
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2006

Other keywords

  • Arctic and alpine ecosystems
  • Biodiversity
  • Climate change
  • Vegetation change


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