Plot-scale evidence of tundra vegetation change and links to recent summer warming

Sarah C. Elmendorf*, Gregory H.R. Henry, Robert D. Hollister, Robert G. Björk, Noémie Boulanger-Lapointe, Elisabeth J. Cooper, Johannes H.C. Cornelissen, Thomas A. Day, Ellen Dorrepaal, Tatiana G. Elumeeva, Mike Gill, William A. Gould, John Harte, David S. Hik, Annika Hofgaard, David R. Johnson, Jill F. Johnstone, Ingibjörg Svala Jónsdóttir, Janet C. Jorgenson, Kari KlanderudJulia A. Klein, Saewan Koh, Gaku Kudo, Mark Lara, Esther Lévesque, Borgthor Magnússon, Jeremy L. May, Joel A. Mercado-Díaz, Anders Michelsen, Ulf Molau, Isla H. Myers-Smith, Steven F. Oberbauer, Vladimir G. Onipchenko, Christian Rixen, Niels Martin Schmidt, Gaius R. Shaver, Marko J. Spasojevic, Póra Ellen Pórhallsdóttir, Anne Tolvanen, Tiffany Troxler, Craig E. Tweedie, Sandra Villareal, Carl Henrik Wahren, Xanthe Walker, Patrick J. Webber, Jeffrey M. Welker, Sonja Wipf

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

526 Citations (Scopus)


Temperature is increasing at unprecedented rates across most of the tundra biome. Remote-sensing data indicate that contemporary climate warming has already resulted in increased productivity over much of the Arctic, but plot-based evidence for vegetation transformation is not widespread. We analysed change in tundra vegetation surveyed between 1980 and 2010 in 158 plant communities spread across 46 locations. We found biome-wide trends of increased height of the plant canopy and maximum observed plant height for most vascular growth forms; increased abundance of litter; increased abundance of evergreen, low-growing and tall shrubs; and decreased abundance of bare ground. Intersite comparisons indicated an association between the degree of summer warming and change in vascular plant abundance, with shrubs, forbs and rushes increasing with warming. However, the association was dependent on the climate zone, the moisture regime and the presence of permafrost. Our data provide plot-scale evidence linking changes in vascular plant abundance to local summer warming in widely dispersed tundra locations across the globe.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)453-457
Number of pages5
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank innumerable field technicians, graduate and undergraduate assistants for help with data collection, and parks, wildlife refuges, field stations and the local and indigenous people for the opportunity to conduct research on their land. Financial support for the synthesis was provided by the Canadian International Polar Year program and the US National Science Foundation; the field data collection was financially supported by the Australian Research Council, the Department of Sustainability and Environment (Australia), the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, ArcticNet (Canada), Environment Canada, the Northern Scientific Training program (Canada), the Polar Continental Shelf program (Canada), the Yukon Territorial Government (Canada), the Natural Sciences Division of the Danish Council for Independent Research, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, the ATANS grant program (EU), the Academy of Finland, the Icelandic Research Fund, the Environmental Research and Technology Development Fund (Japan), the Ministry of the Environment (Japan), the Dutch Polar program, the Research Council of Norway, the Norwegian Svalbard Society, the Norwegian Polar Institute, the European Commission (Framework 5; Norway), the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning, the US National Science Foundation, the US Long Term Ecological Research program, the US Forest Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.


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