Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have added new plant data to Arctic ecosystems models. The added data helped them understand how vegetation in the tundra responds to climate change.
As plants are essential for environmental nutrient circulation, the scientists added data on lichens, moss, and shrubs to improve the models. As the most recent model include plant growth patterns, it was found that tall shrubs grow more than low-growth plants under warming conditions.
“How plants react to climate change will affect what happens to the large amounts of carbon in the Arctic,” said Benjamin Sulman of ORNL.
“With, our model We should be able to make more accurate predictions of what these ecosystems as a whole will do.”
Another study conducted by scientists at the University of Helsinki concluded that the dominance of dwarf shrubs impacts soil microclimate and carbon stocks. Compared to other arctic plants, the shrubs consume more water and cast more shade.
“The results indicate that the dominance of dwarf shrubs decreases soil moisture, soil temperatures and soil organic carbon stocks,” said researcher Julia Kemppinen.
As the shrubs dominate the Fennoscandian tundra, especially the evergreen crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), less carbon is stored in the region’s soils. While other plant communities allow for more carbon to be absorbed, the shrubs release what they cannot store back to the atmosphere.
“Arctic soils store about half of the global belowground organic carbon pool,” said researcher Anna-Maria Virkkala. “If the carbon stocks decrease as the conditions in the Arctic are changing, this may feedback to global climate warming. Therefore, everyone should know what is going on in the Arctic.”