The strong warming of the Arctic threaten to completely change the biodiversity and ecosystem functions within the arctic displacing large parts of the current communities. Two apparent patterns of vegetation community change have been discovered from experimental and long term monitoring of Arctic study sites; the arctic is greening and vegetative height increases. However, trends of functional vegetation groups are equivocal and the origin of species turnover is still unknown.
The focus of my study on Svalbard will be to compare the response of vegetation species diversity and composition to temperature across space and over time in response to both experimental and natural warming. Specifically, I will ask whether we can use spatial differences in community composition as a result of microclimatic variation across the landscape to predict species diversity and composition change over time or in response to experimental warming. This project is also unique in that it will explore these temperature-vegetation relationships not only for vascular plants but also for lichens and bryophytes, which are less well studied but make up the majority of high Arctic plant diversity.
In order to attribute spatial variation and temporal change in community composition specifically to temperature, I will combine vegetation surveys in the ITEX and microclimate plots with high-resolution measurements of temperature using TOMST temperature loggers as well as numerous other measurements of environmental and topographic conditions (e.g. soil moisture, soil nutrient content, soil depth, slope and aspect). These measurements will help to elucidate which of the patterns or changes in species composition are related specifically to temperature. The results of this study will allow us to determine whether plant community change in response to warming reflects local species reshuffling and an increase in species from warmer microclimates.