Journal Article

Predicted changes in vegetation structure affect the susceptibility to invasion of bryophyte-dominated subarctic heath

R. Lutz Eckstein, Eva Pereira,, Ann Milbau and Bente Jessen Graae

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 108, issue 1, pages 177-183
Published in print July 2011 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online May 2011 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcr097
Predicted changes in vegetation structure affect the susceptibility to invasion of bryophyte-dominated subarctic heath

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  • Ecology and Conservation
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Background and Aims

A meta-analysis of global change experiments in arctic tundra sites suggests that plant productivity and the cover of shrubs, grasses and dead plant material (i.e. litter) will increase and the cover of bryophytes will decrease in response to higher air temperatures. However, little is known about which effects these changes in vegetation structure will have on seedling recruitment of species and invasibility of arctic ecosystems.

Methods

A field experiment was done in a bryophyte-dominated, species-rich subarctic heath by manipulating the cover of bryophytes and litter in a factorial design. Three phases of seedling recruitment (seedling emergence, summer seedling survival, first-year recruitment) of the grass Anthoxanthum alpinum and the shrub Betula nana were analysed after they were sown into the experimental plots.

Key Results

Bryophyte and litter removal significantly increased seedling emergence of both species but the effects of manipulations of vegetation structure varied strongly for the later phases of recruitment. Summer survival and first-year recruitment were significantly higher in Anthoxanthum. Although bryophyte removal generally increased summer survival and recruitment, seedlings of Betula showed high mortality in early August on plots where bryophytes had been removed.

Conclusions

Large species-specific variation and significant effects of experimental manipulations on seedling recruitment suggest that changes in vegetation structure as a consequence of global warming will affect the abundance of grasses and shrubs, the species composition and the susceptibility to invasion of subarctic heath vegetation.

Keywords: Anthoxanthum alpinum; Betula nana; bryophytes; deciduous shrubs; global warming; graminoids; invasibility; litter; recruitment; seedling emergence

Journal Article.  4853 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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