In arctic Alaska, researchers have manipulated air temperature, light availability, and soil nutrient availability in several tundra communities over the past two decades. These communities responded quite differently to the same manipulations, and species responded individualistically within communities and among sites. For example, moist acidic tundra is primarily nitrogen (N)-limited, whereas wet sedge tundra is primarily phosphorus (P)-limited, and the magnitude of growth responses varies across sites within communities. Here we report results of four years of manipulated nutrients (N and/or P) and/or air temperature in an understudied, diverse plant community, moist non-acidic tussock tundra, in northern Alaska. Our goals were to determine which factors limit above-ground net primary productivity (ANPP) and biomass, how community composition changes may affect ecosystem attributes, and to compare these results with those from other communities to determine their generality.
Although relative abundance of functional groups shifted in several treatments, the only significant change in community-level ANPP and biomass occurred in plots that received both N and P, driven by an increase in graminoid biomass and production resulting from a positive effect of adding N. There was no difference in community biomass among any other treatments; however, some growth forms and individual species did respond. After four years no one species has come to dominate the treatment plots and species richness has not changed. These results are similar to studies in dry heath, wet sedge, and moist acidic tundra where community biomass had the greatest response to both N and P and warming results were more subtle. Unlike in moist acidic tundra where shrub biomass increased markedly with fertilization, our results suggest that in non-acidic tundra carbon sequestration in plant biomass will not increase substantially under increased soil nutrient conditions because of the lack of overstory shrub species.