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Ecol Appl. 2015 Jan;25(1):172-85.

Ecological recovery in an Arctic delta following widespread saline incursion.

Abstract

Arctic ecosystems are vulnerable to the combined effects of climate change and a range of other anthropogenic perturbations. Predicting the cumulative impact of these stressors requires an improved understanding of the factors affecting ecological resilience. In September of 1999, a severe storm surge in the Mackenzie Delta flooded alluvial surfaces up to 30 km inland from the coast with saline waters, driving environmental impacts unprecedented in the last millennium. In this study we combined field monitoring of permanent sampling plots with an analysis of the Landsat archive (1986-2011) to explore the factors affecting the recovery of ecosystems to this disturbance. Soil salinization following the 1999 storm caused the abrupt dieback of more than 30,000 ha of tundra vegetation. Vegetation cover and soil chemistry show that recovery is occurring, but the rate and spatial extent are strongly dependent on vegetation type, with graminoid- and upright shrub-dominated areas showing recovery after a decade, but dwarf shrub tundra exhibiting little to no recovery over this period. Our analyses suggest that recovery from salinization has been strongly influenced by vegetation type and the frequency of freshwater flooding following the storm. With increased ocean storm activity, rising sea levels, and reduced sea ice cover, Arctic coastal ecosystems will be more likely to experience similar disturbances in the future, highlighting the importance of combining field sampling with regional-scale remote sensing in efforts to detect, understand, and anticipate environmental change.

PMID:
26255366
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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