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Keywords:

  • arctic ecosystems;
  • climate change;
  • global warming;
  • perturbation experiments;
  • snowmelt

General circulation models predict increases in temperature and precipitation in the Arctic as the result of increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. Arctic ecosystems are strongly constrained by temperature, and may be expected to be markedly influenced by climate change. Perturbation experiments have been used to predict how Arctic ecosystems will respond to global climatic change, but these have often simulated individual perturbations (e.g. temperature alone) and have largely been confined to the short Arctic summer. The importance of interactions between global change variables (e.g. CO2, temperature, precipitation) has rarely been examined, and much experimentation has been short-term. Similarly, very little experimentation has occurred in the winter when General circulation models predict the largest changes in climate will take place. Recent studies have clearly demonstrated that Arctic ecosystems are not dormant during the winter and thus much greater emphasis on experimentation during this period is essential to improve our understanding of how these ecosystems will respond to global change. This, combined with more long-term experimentation, direct observation of natural vegetation change (e.g. at the tundra/taiga boundary) and improvements in model predictions is necessary if we are to understand the future nature and extent of Arctic ecosystems in a changing climate.