Question: How does the composition and species richness of understorey vegetation associate with changing abundance of deciduous shrub canopies? What are the species-specific associations between shrubs and understorey plants?
Location: Tundra habitats along an over 1000-km long range, spanning from NW Fennoscandia to the Yamal Peninsula in northwest Russia.
Methods: The data from 758 vegetation sample plots from 12 sites comprised cover estimates of all plant species, including bryophytes and lichens, and canopy height of deciduous shrubs. The relationships between shrub volume and cover of plant groups and species richness of vegetation were investigated. In addition, species-specific associations between understorey species and shrub volume were analysed.
Results: Shrub abundance was shown to be associated with the composition of understorey vegetation, and the association patterns were consistent across the study sites. Increased forb cover was positively associated with shrub volume, whereas bryophyte, lichen, dwarf shrub and graminoid cover decreased in association with increasing volume of deciduous shrubs. The total species richness of vegetation declined with increasing shrub volume.
Conclusions: The results suggest that an increase of shrubs – due to climatic warming or a decrease in grazing pressure – is likely to have strong effects on plant–plant interactions and lead to a decrease in the diversity of understorey vegetation.