Eurasian Arctic greening reveals teleconnections and the potential for structurally novel ecosystems

Abstract

Arctic warming has been linked to observed increases in tundra shrub cover and growth in recent decades1,2,3 on the basis of significant relationships between deciduous shrub growth/biomass and temperature3,4,5,6,7. These vegetation trends have been linked to Arctic sea-ice decline5 and thus to the sea-ice/albedo feedback known as Arctic amplification8. However, the interactions between climate, sea ice and tundra vegetation remain poorly understood. Here we reveal a 50-year growth response over a >100,000 km2 area to a rise in summer temperature for alder (Alnus) and willow (Salix), the most abundant shrub genera respectively at and north of the continental treeline. We demonstrate that whereas plant productivity is related to sea ice in late spring, the growing season peak responds to persistent synoptic-scale air masses over West Siberia associated with Fennoscandian weather systems through the Rossby wave train. Substrate is important for biomass accumulation, yet a strong correlation between growth and temperature encompasses all observed soil types. Vegetation is especially responsive to temperature in early summer. These results have significant implications for modelling present and future Low Arctic vegetation responses to climate change, and emphasize the potential for structurally novel ecosystems to emerge from within the tundra zone.

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Figure 1: Map of NWET.
Figure 2: Pearson correlation coefficients between sea-ice extent, NDVI (ref. 11) and surface temperatures.
Figure 3: Monthly Pearson correlation coefficients (r) between NDVI (ref. 11) and Laborovaya (S. lanata) shrub ring-width chronology.
Figure 4: Pearson correlation coefficients between deciduous shrub ring-width chronologies, surface temperatures and the SCA index.

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Acknowledgements

The overall work was supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (grants NNG6GE00A and NNX09AK56G), the Northern Eurasian Earth Science Partnership Initiative, the Academy of Finland’s Russia in Flux programme through the ENSINOR project (decision 208147), the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs (grant 0531200) and the Nordic Centre of Excellence—TUNDRA. M.M-F. was financially supported by a Marie Curie Research Fellowship during the completion of this study (Grant Agreement Number 254206, project ECOCHANGE: Creating conditions for persistence of biodiversity in the face of climate change).

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M.M-F. performed the statistical analysis, wrote the manuscript and created the figures. B.C.F. designed and performed the field expeditions and sampling, supervised the project and collaborated in writing the manuscript. P.Z. dated and measured the ring-width chronologies. T.K. performed fieldwork (ground truthing of satellite imagery) and laboratory remote-sensing analyses.

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Correspondence to Bruce C. Forbes.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Macias-Fauria, M., Forbes, B., Zetterberg, P. et al. Eurasian Arctic greening reveals teleconnections and the potential for structurally novel ecosystems. Nature Clim Change 2, 613–618 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1558

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