Modeling dynamics of tundra plant communities on the Yamal Peninsula, Russia

Yu, Q., H. E. Epstein, D. A. Walker, G. V. Frost, and B. C. Forbes. 2011. Modeling dynamics of tundra plant communities on the Yamal Peninsula, Russia, in response to climate change and grazing pressure. Environmental Research Letters 6:045505.


Understanding the responses of the arctic tundra biome to a changing climate requires knowledge of the complex interactions among the climate, soils and biological system. This study investigates the individual and interaction effects of climate change and reindeer grazing across a variety of climate zones and soil texture types on tundra vegetation community dynamics using an arctic vegetation model that incorporates the reindeer diet, where grazing is a function of both foliar nitrogen concentration and reindeer forage preference. We found that grazing is important, in addition to the latitudinal climate gradient, in controlling tundra plant community composition, explaining about 13% of the total variance in model simulations for all arctic tundra subzones. The decrease in biomass of lichen, deciduous shrub and graminoid plant functional types caused by grazing is potentially dampened by climate warming. Moss biomass had a nonlinear response to increased grazing intensity, and such responses were stronger when warming was present. Our results suggest that evergreen shrubs may benefit from increased grazing intensity due to their low palatability, yet a growth rate sensitivity analysis suggests that changes in nutrient uptake rates may result in different shrub responses to grazing pressure. Heavy grazing caused plant communities to shift from shrub tundra toward moss, graminoid-dominated tundra in subzones C and D when evergreen shrub growth rates were decreased in the model. The response of moss, lichen and forbs to warming varied across the different subzones. Initial vegetation responses to climate change during transient warming are different from the long term equilibrium responses due to shifts in the controlling mechanisms (nutrient limitation versus competition) within tundra plant communities.

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