Geomorphological processes shape Arctic plants
Arctic conditions impact the size and resource efficiency of plants. An international group of physical geographers and ecologists investigated how geomorphological processes influence plant communities. The group collected data from Svalbard, Greenland, and Fennoscandia.
Postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oulu and physical geographer Julia Kemppinen together with her colleagues investigated how geomorphological processes influence Arctic plants. This helps understanding Arctic ecosystems, where both geomorphology and plants are going through a rapid climatic change.
Geomorphological processes shape the living and non-living nature. Especially in the Arctic, the work of low temperatures and abundant meltwaters is evident. This forms a diversity of geomorphological features and soil erosion by frost, wind, water, and slope processes.
The tiny plants of the Arctic must endure the harsh conditions, and here, their different functional traits help them. Plant functional traits are mainly related the size and structure or the resource acquisitiveness of the plant.
The researchers investigated how geomorphological processes influence Arctic plant community traits. They found that the plant communities were most affected in study plots with cryoturbation. Cryoturbation is the mixing and relocation of soil material as the ground freezes and thaws. This has an impact on the plants that grow on cryoturbated soils.
“Cryoturbation makes it hard for plants to grow tall. On the other hand, cryoturbation can also release nutrients from deeper soil layers, and this increases leaf nutrient contents”, says Kemppinen.
The results indicated that plant communities in different parts of the Arctic have similar responses. The researchers collected field data on 200 species from over 5000 study plots across the Arctic. The researchers found general patterns that hold despite location specific characteristics.
The study was published in the prestigious Global Ecology and Biogeography journal on 4 May 2022.
- The research article: Julia Kemppinen, Pekka Niittynen, Konsta Happonen, Peter C. le Roux, Juha Aalto, Jan Hjort, Tuija Maliniemi, Olli Karjalainen, Helena Rautakoski & Miska Luoto. 2022. Geomorphological processes shape plant community traits in the Arctic. Global Ecology and Biogeography. https://doi.org/10.1111/geb.13512
The data and code are openly available:
- Julia Kemppinen, Pekka Niittynen, Konsta Happonen, Peter C. le Roux, Juha Aalto, Jan Hjort, Tuija Maliniemi, Olli Karjalainen, Helena Rautakoski & Miska Luoto. 2022. Data and code from: Geomorphological processes shape plant community traits in the Arctic. Zenodo. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.6410637
The study was funded by the Academy of Finland, the Nessling Foundation, the Kone Foundation, the Carl Tryggers Stiftelse, and the Finnish Cultural Foundation.
- Read more about physical geography research at the University of Oulu
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