Diverging Plant and Ecosystem Strategies in Response to Climate Change in the High Arctic

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Kadmiel S Maseyk1,2, Jeffrey M Welker3, Claudia I Czimczik4, Massimo Lupascu4, Celine Lett2,5 and Ulrike H Seibt2,6, (1)Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7, United Kingdom, (2)University Pierre and Marie Curie Paris VI, Paris, France, (3)University of Alaska Anchorage, Department of Biological Sciences, Anchorage, AK, United States, (4)Univ of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA, United States, (5)NERC British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, United Kingdom, (6)University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, United States
Increasing summer precipitation means Arctic growing seasons are becoming wetter as well as warmer, but the effect of these coupled changes on tundra ecosystem functioning remains largely unknown. We have determined how warmer and wetter summers affect coupled carbon-water cycling in a High Arctic polar semi-desert ecosystem in NW Greenland. Measurements of ecosystem CO2 and water fluxes throughout the growing season and leaf ecophysiological traits (gas exchange, morphology, leaf chemistry) were made at a long-term climate change experiment. After 9 years of exposure to warmer (+ 4°C) and / or wetter (+ 50% precipitation) treatments, we found diverging plant strategies between the responses to warming with or without an increase in summer precipitation. Warming alone resulted in an increase in leaf nitrogen, mesophyll conductance and leaf-mass per area and higher rates of leaf-level photosynthesis, but with warming and wetting combined leaf traits remain largely unchanged. However, total leaf area increased with warming plus wetting but was unchanged with warming alone. The combined effect of these leaf trait and canopy adjustments is a decrease in ecosystem water-use efficiency (the ratio of net productivity to evapotranspiration) with warming only, but a substantial increase with combined warming and wetting. We conclude that increasing summer precipitation will alter tundra ecohydrological responses to warming; that leaf-level changes in ecophysiological traits have an upward cascading consequence for ecosystem and land surface-climate interactions; and the current relative resistance of High Arctic ecosystems to warming may mask biochemical and carbon cycling changes already underway.