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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Root trait variation along a sub-arctic tundra elevational gradient

Spitzer, Clydecia M.; Sundqvist, Maja K.; Wardle, David A.; Gundale, Michael J.; Kardol, Paul

Abstract

Elevational gradients are useful for predicting how plant communities respond to global warming, because communities at lower elevations experience warmer temperatures. Fine root traits and root trait variation could play an important role in determining plant community responses to warming in cold-climate ecosystems where a large proportion of plant biomass is allocated belowground. Here, we investigated the effects of elevation-associated temperature change on twelve chemical and morphological fine root traits of plant species and plant communities in a Swedish subarctic tundra. We also assessed the relative contributions of plant species turnover and intraspecific variation to the total amount of community-level root trait variation explained by elevation. Several root traits, both at the species and whole community levels, had significant linear or quadratic relationships with elevation, but the direction and strength of these relationships varied among traits and plant species. Further, we found no support for a unidirectional change from more acquisitive root trait values at the lower elevations towards trait values associated with greater nutrient conservation at the higher elevations, either at the species or community level. On the other hand, root trait coefficients of variation at the community level increased with elevation for several root traits. Further, for a large proportion of the community-level traits we found that intraspecific variation was relatively more important than species turnover, meaning that trait plasticity is important for driving community-level trait responses to environmental factors in this tundra system. Our findings indicate that with progressing global warming, intraspecific trait variation may drive plant community composition but this may not necessarily lead to shifts in root resource-acquisition strategy for all species.

Keywords

arctic; community ecology; elevational gradient; root traits; trait variation; tundra

Published in

Oikos
2023, volume: 2023, number: 1, article number: e08903
Publisher: WILEY

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management
Nanyang Technological University (NTU)
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG13 Climate action

UKÄ Subject classification

Ecology

Publication Identifiers

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/oik.08903

URI (permanent link to this page)

https://res.slu.se/id/publ/117155