Research paper: Arctic-alpine vegetation biomass is driven by fine-scale abiotic heterogeneity

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Suvanto, S., le Roux, P.C. & Luoto, M. (2014). Arctic-alpine vegetation biomass is driven by fine-scale abiotic heterogeneity. Geografiska Annaler: Series A, Physical Geography 94(4), 549-560. DOI: 10.1111/geoa.12050

ABSTRACT: During recent decades large changes in vegetation biomass have been observed in arctic and alpine areas. While these temporal trends have been clearly linked to changing climatic conditions, the drivers of local spatial variation in biomass are still relatively poorly understood. Thus, we examine the effects of abiotic conditions (topography, soil properties and geomorphological processes) on aboveground vascular plant biomass to understand the determinants of contemporary fine-scale heterogeneity in this variable. We also compare the results from clip-harvested biomass samples to three non-destructive biomass estimates: vegetation cover, height and volume. To investigate the local drivers of biomass we analysed an extensive dataset of 960 1-m2 cells in arctic–alpine tundra using spatially explicit generalized estimation equations to conduct variation partitioning. The abiotic environment had a clear impact on the distribution of biomass (variance explained 32.89%). Soil properties were most strongly related to aboveground biomass (independent effect in variation partitioning 7.03% and combined effect including joined effects 19.6%). Topography had only little influence after soil and geomorphology were taken into account (independent effect 2.23%, combined effect 18.73%), implying that topography affects biomass only indirectly. Of the non-destructive biomass estimates, the results for vegetation volume were most similar to those for biomass samples. Thus, we recommend utilizing vegetation volume as a cost-efficient and robust biomass estimate in arctic-alpine areas. Our results indicate that the fine-scale environmental variation has to be taken into account more carefully when modelling vegetation biomass, especially under changing climatic conditions.

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