Plant responses to fertilization and exclusion of grazers on an arctic tundra heath

Authors

  • Doris Grellmann


D. Grellmann, Ecological Botany, Dept of Ecol. and Environm. Sci., Umeå Univ., SE-901 87 Umeå, Sweden (doris.grellmann@eg.umu.se).

Abstract

This study investigated the impacts of fertilization and grazing by Norwegian lemmings (Lemmus lemmus), grey-sided voles (Clethrionomys rufocanus), and reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) on a diverse tundra plant community dominated by deciduous shrubs. Four out of eight study areas, having a size of 2500 m2 each, were fertilized with a N-P-K fertilizer and four areas served as unfertilized controls. Two types of exclosures were used within each study area, one to exclude solely reindeer, and one to exclude both rodents and reindeer. Open, grazed plots served as controls. During 5 years following the fertilization event the changes in vegetation inside and outside the exclosures were monitored using a point frequency method. The densities of rodents on the fertilized and unfertilized areas were investigated by live trapping and by counting nests of overwintering individuals. Reindeer do not graze on the study area during the growing season but migrate through this area in autumn and spring. Fertilization increased the abundance of vascular plants while grazing by reindeer and rodents decreased the abundance of vascular plants significantly on both fertilized and unfertilized areas. Rodents preferred clearly the fertilized areas during winter, decreasing the abundance of Vaccinium myrtillus and Vaccinium vitis-idaea, while very little grazing occurred during summer. Graminoids showed the strongest positive response to fertilization and dominated the plant community on ungrazed plots, while winter grazing by both reindeer and rodents significantly decreased the abundance of graminoids. Deciduous shrubs (Betula nana, Vaccinium myrtillus) increased slightly but significantly due to fertilization and evergreen dwarf shrubs showed no response to fertilization. However, the use of functional growth forms for predicting the responses of nutrient enrichment and grazing must be questioned, as responses to fertilization as well as preferences by herbivores were shown to be species-specific rather than uniform within functional groups based on plant growth forms.

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