Scientists from Greifswald Publish Research on Arctic Bushes in 'Nature'

Arctic willows in Greenland, photo: Martin Wilmking
Thin section of an Arctic alder. There are only six cells in the thin strip in the middle, the growth ring of 2004, a year which saw a moth invasion. Photo: Jelena Lange

‘If you go for a walk in the tundra or in high elevations, you will often actually be walking on the treetops of dwarf forests. From an ecological point of view, Arctic bushes can almost be seen as buried crowns of trees,’ explains Professor Martin Wilmking from the University of Greifswald’s Institute of Botany and Landscape Ecology. Scientists from Greifswald have been working under his supervision in the inhospitable regions of the North for several years, measuring the heights of plants, branches, vegetation cover and the vitality of bush vegetation. They have collected samples from bushes and shrubs, for example, from Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska and Greenland and taken these back to Greifswald to examine their growth rings in laboratory conditions.

Several of the investigation results have now provided insights into the impact of climate change on the vegetation of tundra regions and have been included in the study that was published in the Nature journal. Five of the co-authors either still belong to Greifswald’s Landscape Ecology and Ecosystem Dynamics (LEED) research group or collected the data during their time in Greifswald. The doctoral candidate, Rohan Shetti, who is defending his doctoral thesis on 28 Sepember 2018, was amongst the research staff: ‘It was an absolutely brilliant experience. First of all, of course, the fieldwork in the Ural Mountains, followed by the analysis of the data, then the writing up of the results in such a large consortium of scientists, and now the publication as the final result.’

Approximately 140 scientists combined their results, they looked at 56,000 specimens from more than 100 observation sites. The results showed that tundra plants grow significantly taller in warmer conditions, but that other features such as the size of the leaves or the rate of nutrient cycling do not react as quickly to warmer temperatures. Professor Wilmking also said: ‘We can expect that changes in the tundra and its functions such as carbon sink or carbon source could result in both dwarf bush forests growing taller and other kinds of vegetation, but also in species changing their ranges.’


Further Information

Original publication Anne D. Bjorkman (published on 26 September 2018): Plant functional trait change across a warming tundra biome. Nature. Doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0563-7.
German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv)
Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre

Contact at the University of Greifswald
Prof. Dr. Martin Wilmking Ph.D.
Arbeitsgruppe Landscape Ecology and Ecosystem Dynamics (LEED)
Institute of Botany and Landscape Ecology
Soldmannstraße 15, 17489 Greifswald
Tel.: +49 3834 420 4095