Vegetation Change Across the Tundra Biome
mountain tundra 2734105 1920Plant communities in Arctic and alpine regions are growing taller as a result of a warming climate. This is according to the results of a huge, collaborative research effort exploring tundra vegetation change, which were published in the journal Nature this week. 

Rapid climate warming in the Arctic and alpine regions is driving changes in the structure and composition of plant communities, with important consequences for how this vast and sensitive ecosystem functions. A new paper, published in Nature this week, shows that tundra plant communities are getting taller, which is mostly due to new, taller species moving in. “This is the first time that a biome-scale study has been carried out to get to the root of the critical role that plants play in this rapidly-warming part of the planet” says one of the core authors, Dr. Isla Meyers-Smith.of the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh, UK.

Tundra ecosystems where soils are frozen year round are thought to contain about one third of the world’s soil carbon. An increase in taller plants could speed up the thawing of this frozen carbon bank, and lead to an increase in the release of greenhouse gases. Understanding how tundra ecosystems have been changing will help us make better predictions of future change as the climate warms and what the impacts might be for the planet as a whole. “Although there are still many uncertainties, taller tundra plants could fuel climate change, both in the tundra and for the planet as a whole,” says lead author of the study Dr. Anne Bjorkman of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre in Frankfurt.

130 authors from from 25 countries around the world collaborated to collect and analyse the data for this joint effort, among them MRI Science Leadership Council member Dr. Julia Klein and Dr. Aino Kulonen from the MRI Coordination Office. The extensive dataset includes more than 60,000 data observations from hundreds of sites across the Arctic and alpine tundra.

READ MORE:  Bjorkman et al. 2018, 'Plant functional trait change across a warming tundra biome,' Nature.
READ THE STORY BEHIND THE PAPER: In an article for Ecology & Evolution, a NatureResearch community, lead author Dr. Anne Bjorkman explains how 130 scientists came together: It takes a global village to write one paper – and nearly 20,000 hours of work to collect the data!

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Pictured: The Tundra working group at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research jumping for joy at all the tundra trait data they were able to compile [Photo credit: Anne Bjorkman]