Future climate change on alpine ecosystems

Alpine ecosystems are expexted to be disproportionately impacted by climate change under global warming and EECRG researchers are conducting experiments and analysing data from previously studied sites in an attempt to quantify these likely impacts.

Open-top chambers at Finse

Part of the experiments in the ITEX project
Part of the experiments in the ITEX project
Photo: 
Kari Klanderud

Vigdis Vandvik, Kari Klanderud (NMBU/Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås), John-Arvid Grytnes, Jutta Kapfer (Skog og landskap, Tromsø), Eric Meineri (Stockholm University), Joachim Töpper

We aim to contribute to an improved understanding of the effects of climate and climate change on alpine ecosystems. This we do through observational studies along temporal and spatial gradients (Re-Sample), manipulation experiments (ITEX), and by combining these approaches by carrying out experiments along natural environmental gradients (SeedClim).

The International Tundra Experiment (ITEX) is a long-term experiment that examines effects of climate warming on alpine and arctic plant communities. Open top chambers (OTCs) increase summer temperature by ca 1.5 - 2°C, and have now been in use for up to 20 years on more than 20 circumpolar sites. Our ITEX site is located in an alpine Dryas octopetala heath at Finse, southern Norway, where warming experiments have been running since 2000 (funded by NFR 2000-2004).

The results from Finse show that alpine plant community diversity may decrease under climate warming, particularly if nutrient availability in the soil increases as a result of nitrogen deposition and/or increased mineralisation due to warmer soils. When nutrient availability rose in combination with higher temperature, grasses and some forbs dramatically increased in abundance at the cost of bryophytes, lichens, and low-stature alpine specialist forbs, resulting in decreased community diversity and a shift in species composition. Decreased species diversity and changes in community composition under experimental warming are in line with results from other ITEX experiments, although species specific responses may differ between sites. Individual species responses may lead to changes in species interactions, and results from Finse suggest that climate warming may increase the role of competition for alpine plant community dynamics.          

Key papers:

Klanderud K. 2008. Species-specific responses of an alpine plant community under simulated environmental change. Journal of Vegetation Science, 19: 363-372. 10.3170/2008-8-18376

Klanderud, K. & Totland, Ø. 2005. Simulated climate change altered dominance hierarchies and plant community diversity of an alpine biodiversity-hotspot. Ecology, 86: 2047-2054. 10.1890/04-1563

Klanderud K 2005. Climate change effects on species interactions in an alpine plant community. Journal of Ecology, 93: 127-137. 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2004.00944.x