Long-term ecosystem level experiments at Toolik Lake, Alaska, and at Abisko, Northern Sweden: generalizations and differences in ecosystem and plant type responses to global change


Mark T. van Wijk, Plant Production Systems, Wageningen University, Postbus 430, 6700 AK Wageningen, The Netherlands, tel. +31 (0)317 482141, fax +31 (0)317 484892. Email: mark.vanwijk@wur.nl


Long-term ecosystem-level experiments, in which the environment is manipulated in a controlled manner, are important tools to predict the responses of ecosystem functioning and composition to future global change. We present the results of a meta-analysis performed on the results of long-term ecosystem-level experiments near Toolik Lake, Alaska, and Abisko, Sweden. We quantified aboveground biomass responses of different arctic and subarctic ecosystems to experimental fertilization, warming and shading. We not only analysed the general patterns but also the differences in responsiveness between sites and regions. Aboveground plant biomass showed a broad similarity of responses in both locations, and also showed some important differences. In both locations, aboveground plant biomass, particularly the biomass of deciduous and graminoid plants, responded most strongly to nutrient addition. The biomass of mosses and lichens decreased in both locations as the biomass of vascular plants increased. An important difference between the two regions was the smaller positive aboveground biomass response of deciduous shrubs in Abisko as compared with Toolik Lake. Whereas in Toolik Lake Betula nana increased its dominance and replaced many of the other plant types, in Abisko all vascular plant types increased in abundance without major shifts in relative abundance. The differences between the responses of the dominant vegetation types of the Toolik Lake region, i.e. tussock tundra systems, and that of the Abisko region, i.e. heath systems, may have important implications for ecosystem development under expected patterns of global change. However, there were also large site-specific differences within each region. Several potential mechanistic explanations for the differences between sites and regions are discussed. The response patterns show the need for analyses of joint data sets from many regions and sites, in order to uncover common responses to changes in climate across large arctic regions from regional or local responses.