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SSF-Svalbard Science Forum

Mechanisms underlying climate-driven shifts in plant phenology and abundance and the link to population performance of a large herbivore

Tildelt: kr 69 999

Climate change is rapidly altering patterns of precipitation and temperature (Van Pelt et al. 2016), causing shifts in plant phenology and resource availability for large herbivores (Bjorkman et al. 2020). In the Arctic, weather patterns are increasingly characteristic of earlier springs and delayed onset of snow in autumn, potentially promoting lengthened growing seasons and increased plant production providing nutritional benefit for large herbivores adapted to fleeting forage availability (Livensperger et al. 2019). For example, Svalbard reindeer had increased body mass (i.e., nutritional condition) following warmer autumn conditions that influenced population growth through carryover effects of increased survival and reproduction the following spring (April; Ablon et al. 2017). Despite emerging support for climatic shifts promoting population growth of Svalbard reindeer, the mechanisms underlying the correlation between fitness and responses of vegetation to shifting weather patterns in autumn is largely unexplored. With a focus on autumn conditions that are often overlooked but evidently influential of carryover effects (Albon et al. 2017), we aim to evaluate the relationships among patterns in temperature and precipitation, late-season plant phenology (i.e., senescence) and production (i.e., biomass), and fitness (i.e., nutritional condition, survival and reproduction) of Svalbard reindeer to understand the pathway by which climate-driven shifts in phenology and abundance of plants affect population performance. Using experimental plots placed in habitats of known use by Svalbard reindeer, we will manipulate and test the influence of late-season temperature and soil moisture on senescence and biomass of vegetation. We will then couple trends in plant phenology and production identified in the field experiments with fitness consequences of habitat and forage selection of GPS-collared Svalbard reindeer.

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SSF-Svalbard Science Forum