Productivity–diversity patterns in arctic tundra vegetation


R. Virtanen, Dept of Biology, Univ. of Oulu, FI-90014 Oulu, Finland. E-mail:


Productivity has long been argued to be a major driver of species richness patterns. In the present study we test alternative productivity–diversity hypotheses using vegetation data from the vast Eurasian tundra. The productivity–species pool hypothesis predicts positive relationships at both fine and coarse grain sizes, whereas the productivity–interaction hypothesis predicts unimodal patterns at fine grain size, and monotonic positive patterns at coarse grain size. We furthermore expect to find flatter positive (productivity–species pool hypothesis) or more strongly negative (productivity–interaction hypothesis) relationships for lichens and bryophytes than for vascular plants, because as a group, lichens and bryophytes are better adapted to extreme arctic conditions and more vulnerable to competition for light than the taller-growing vascular plants. The normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) was used as a proxy of productivity. The generally unimodal productivity–diversity patterns were most consistent with the productivity–interaction hypothesis. There was a general trend of decreasing species richness from moderately to maximally productive tundra, in agreement with an increasing importance of competitive interactions. High richness of vascular plants and lichens occurred in moderately low productive tundra areas, whereas that of bryophytes occurred in the least productive tundra habitats covered by this study. The fine and coarse grain richness trends were surprisingly uniform and no variation in beta diversity along the productivity gradient was seen for vascular plants or bryophytes. However, lichen beta diversity varied along the productivity gradient, probably reflecting their sensitivity to habitat conditions and biotic interactions. Overall, the results show evidence that productivity–diversity gradients exist in tundra and that these appear to be largely driven by competitive interactions. Our results also imply that climate warming-driven increases in productivity will strongly affect arctic plant diversity patterns.