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Oecologia. 2003 Apr;135(2):280-7. Epub 2003 Feb 1.

Warming effects on growth, production, and vegetation structure of alpine shrubs: a five-year experiment in northern Japan.

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  • 1Graduate School of Environmental Earth Science, Hokkaido University, 060-0810, Sapporo, Japan. gaku@ees.hokudai.ac.jp


Warming effects on shoot growth, production, reproductive activity, and vegetation structure of alpine shrubs were measured over 5 years in a mid-latitude alpine fellfield in northern Japan. Open-top chambers (OTC) increased the daily mean air-temperature by 1.5-2.3 degrees C throughout the growing season but the effect on soil temperature was small. Two evergreen species, Ledum palustre and Empetrum nigrum, tended to increase their annual shoot production and aboveground-mass accumulation in the OTCs, whereas flower production did not differ. Two deciduous species, Vaccinium uliginosum and Arctous alpinus, increased their flower production in the OTCs, whereas the vegetative growth and mass accumulation did not change. No significant differences in vegetative and flower production were detected in Vaccinium vitis-idaea between the OTCs and control plots. The shoot survival and growth in terms of height of most species increased in the OTCs relative to the control treatment, and the growth rate was significantly different among species. As a result, interspecific competition seemed to be accelerated in the OTCs, and the less competitive V. vitis-idaea was suppressed by other plant species. The response to the warming observed in this study was rather different from that seen in arctic and subarctic plants even within the same species, indicating that the warming effect may cause different responses between arctic and mid-latitude alpine ecosystems. We concluded that the artificial warming over 5 years accelerated the growth of a few restricted species and lead to the change in vegetation structure in the mid-latitude alpine ecosystem.

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