Establishing a missing link: warm summers and winter snow cover promote shrub expansion into alpine tundra in Scandinavia

Authors


Author for correspondence:
Martin Hallinger
Tel: +49 3834 86 4094
Email: martinhallinger@gmx.de

Summary

  • Shrub expansion in alpine and arctic areas is a process with possibly profound implications for ecosystem functioning. The recent shrub expansion has been mainly documented by remote sensing techniques, but the drivers for this process largely remain hypotheses.
  • Here, we outline a dendrochronological method, adapted to shrubs, to address these hypotheses and then present a mechanism for the current shrub expansion by linking recent climate change to shrub growth performance in northern Sweden.
  • A pronounced increase in radial and vertical growth during recent decades along an elevational gradient from treeline to shrubline indicates an ongoing shrub expansion. Age distribution of the shrub population indicates the new colonization of shrubs at high elevations.
  • Shrub growth is correlated with warm summers and winter snow cover and suggests the potential for large-scale ecosystem changes if climate change continues as projected.

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