Responses of High Arctic wet sedge tundra to climate warming since 1980


G. H. R. Henry, tel. +1 604 822 2985, fax +1 604 822 6150, e-mail:


The global climate is changing rapidly and Arctic regions are showing responses to recent warming. Responses of tundra ecosystems to climate change have been examined primarily through short-term experimental manipulations, with few studies of long-term ambient change. We investigated changes in above- and belowground biomass of wet sedge tundra to the warming climate of the Canadian High Arctic over the past 25 years. Aboveground standing crop was harvested from five sedge meadow sites and belowground biomass was sampled from one of the sites in the early 1980s and in 2005 using the same methods. Aboveground biomass was on average 158% greater in 2005 than in the early 1980s. The belowground biomass was also much greater in 2005: root biomass increased by 67% and rhizome biomass by 139% since the early 1980s. Dominant species from each functional group (graminoids, shrubs and forbs) showed significant increases in aboveground biomass. Responsive species included the dominant sedge species Carex aquatilis stans, C. membranacea, and Eriophorum angustifolium, as well as the dwarf shrub Salix arctica and the forb Polygonum viviparum. However, diversity measures were not different between the sample years. The greater biomass correlated strongly with increased annual and summer temperatures over the same time period, and was significantly greater than the annual variation in biomass measured in 1980–1983. Increased decomposition and mineralization rates, stimulated by warmer soils, were likely a major cause of the elevated productivity, as no differences in the mass of litter were found between sample periods. Our results are corroborated by published short-term experimental studies, conducted in other wet sedge tundra communities which link warming and fertilization with elevated decomposition, mineralization and tundra productivity. We believe that this is the first study to show responses in High Arctic wet sedge tundra to recent climate change.