Diminished response of arctic plants to warming over time

PLoS One. 2015 Mar 13;10(3):e0116586. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0116586. eCollection 2015.


The goal of this study is to determine if the response of arctic plants to warming is consistent across species, locations and time. This study examined the impact of experimental warming and natural temperature variation on plants at Barrow and Atqasuk, Alaska beginning in 1994. We considered observations of plant performance collected from 1994-2000 "short-term" and those from 2007-2012 "long-term". The plant traits reported are the number of inflorescences, inflorescence height, leaf length, and day of flower emergence. These traits can inform us about larger scale processes such as plant reproductive effort, plant growth, and plant phenology, and therefore provide valuable insight into community dynamics, carbon uptake, and trophic interactions. We categorized traits of all species monitored at each site into temperature response types. We then compared response types across traits, plant growth forms, sites, and over time to analyze the consistency of plant response to warming. Graminoids were the most responsive to warming and showed a positive response to temperature, while shrubs were generally the least responsive. Almost half (49%) of response types (across all traits, species, and sites combined) changed from short-term to long-term. The percent of plants responsive to warming decreased from 57% (short-term) to 46% (long-term). These results indicate that the response of plants to warming varies over time and has diminished overall in recent years.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ecological Parameter Monitoring / methods*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Global Warming
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Plant Development
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena*
  • Plants / metabolism
  • Temperature
  • Tundra

Grant support

This work was supported by National Science Foundation, www.nsf.gov, OPP #9714103, #0632263, #0856516 (SO, RH). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.