Climate change and plants in tundra: more shrubs

Climate change is affecting vegetation across the globe. Arctic and alpine ecosystems such as tundra are particularly susceptible to climate warming, as they are generally limited by low temperatures. Therefore, these ecosystems can be used as indicators for the impacts of climate change.

One of the most apparent changes in tundra ecosystems is an increase of shrubs, so-called “shrub encroachment”. Shrub encroachment, however, can be managed by grazing (mostly by sheep) in the area.

What we do

Most of our fieldwork is performed in Dovrefjell Nationall Park in Norway, and we mainly focus on three aspects:

  1. Micro-climate
  2. Biodiversity changes
  3. Carbon fluxes and stocks

Scrubs research in Dovrefjell, Norway

Some alarming results and conclusions

Climate warming at Dovrefjell has already led to important changes, in terms of vegetation composition and in terms of ecosystem functioning:

  • Shrubs visibly increased their abundance, resulting in the loss of other species such as lichens.
  • Shrub expansion affects the micro-climate: higher temperatures in winter and lower temperatures in summer below the shrubs.
  • Shrubs affect the ecosystem’s carbon balance and radiation balance, which might intensify climate warming in the longer term.