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Keywords:

  • determinant growth;
  • phenology;
  • season length;
  • tissue nutrients;
  • tussock tundra

Summary

The phenological and physiological responses of arctic tundra plant species are key to predicting their survival in a warmer climate. One of the consequences of a warmer climate in the Arctic will be a longer growing season. We examined the effects of lengthened growing season and soil warming on the widely distributed forb, Polygonum bistorta L. Three treatments were established near Toolik Lake, Alaska in 1995 and 1996: extended season, extended season with soil warming, and an unmanipulated control. The season was extended by removing the snow load in the spring and keeping the treatments free of snow in the autumn. The spring snow removal extended the snow-free period over that of controls by 8 d in 1995 and 24 d in 1996. As a result, the number of accumulated soil thaw days and consequently the depth of soil thaw increased on the treatment plots. Polygonum bistorta responded to the treatments by becoming active earlier and senescing earlier, resulting in a growth period of similar duration to that of the controls. Leaf size and leaf number were unaffected by the treatments, as were leaf photosynthetic assimilation rates and nutrient concentrations. The results indicate that internal constraints limit the response of this species to lengthened growing season, suggesting that it is a determinant or periodic species. With climate warming, this periodic growth will put P. bistorta at a competitive disadvantage relative to plants that can respond to lengthened growing season.