Nitrogen fixing shrubs advance the pace of tall-shrub expansion in low-Arctic tundra


Tall deciduous shrubs are critically important to carbon and nutrient cycling in high-latitude ecosystems. As Arctic regions warm, shrubs expand heterogeneously across their ranges, including within unburned terrain experiencing isometric gradients of warming. To constrain the effects of widespread shrub expansion in terrestrial and Earth System Models, improved knowledge of local-to-regional scale patterns, rates, and controls on decadal shrub expansion is required. Using fine-scale remote sensing, we modeled the drivers of patch-scale tall-shrub expansion over 68 years across the central Seward Peninsula of Alaska. Models show the heterogeneous patterns of tall-shrub expansion are not only predictable but have an upper limit defined by permafrost, climate, and edaphic gradients, two-thirds of which have yet to be colonized. These observations suggest that increased nitrogen inputs from nitrogen-fixing alders contributed to a positive feedback that advanced overall tall-shrub expansion. These findings will be useful for constraining and projecting vegetation-climate feedbacks in the Arctic.

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Year of Publication
Communications Earth & Environment
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