Global assessment of experimental climate warming on tundra vegetation: Heterogeneity over space and time

Sarah C. Elmendorf, Gregory H R Henry, Robert D. Hollister, Robert G. Björk, Anne D. Bjorkman, Terry V. Callaghan, Laura Siegwart Collier, Elisabeth J. Cooper, Johannes H C Cornelissen, Thomas Day, Anna Maria Fosaa, William A. Gould, Járngerur Grétarsdóttir, John Harte, Luise Hermanutz, David S. Hik, Annika Hofgaard, Frith Jarrad, Ingibjörg Svala Jónsdóttir, Frida KeuperKari Klanderud, Julia A. Klein, Saewan Koh, Gaku Kudo, Simone I. Lang, Val Loewen, Jeremy L. May, Joel Mercado, Anders Michelsen, Ulf Molau, Isla H. Myers-Smith, Steven F. Oberbauer, Sara Pieper, Eric Post, Christian Rixen, Clare H. Robinson, Niels Martin Schmidt, Gaius R. Shaver, Anna Stenström, Anne Tolvanen, Ørjan Totland, Tiffany Troxler, Carl Henrik Wahren, Patrick J. Webber, Jeffery M. Welker, Philip A. Wookey

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

739 Scopus citations


Understanding the sensitivity of tundra vegetation to climate warming is critical to forecasting future biodiversity and vegetation feedbacks to climate. In situ warming experiments accelerate climate change on a small scale to forecast responses of local plant communities. Limitations of this approach include the apparent site-specificity of results and uncertainty about the power of short-term studies to anticipate longer term change. We address these issues with a synthesis of 61 experimental warming studies, of up to 20years duration, in tundra sites worldwide. The response of plant groups to warming often differed with ambient summer temperature, soil moisture and experimental duration. Shrubs increased with warming only where ambient temperature was high, whereas graminoids increased primarily in the coldest study sites. Linear increases in effect size over time were frequently observed. There was little indication of saturating or accelerating effects, as would be predicted if negative or positive vegetation feedbacks were common. These results indicate that tundra vegetation exhibits strong regional variation in response to warming, and that in vulnerable regions, cumulative effects of long-term warming on tundra vegetation - and associated ecosystem consequences - have the potential to be much greater than we have observed to date.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)164-175
Number of pages12
JournalEcology letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2012


  • Alpine
  • Arctic
  • Climate warming
  • Long-term experiment
  • Meta-analysis
  • Plants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Global assessment of experimental climate warming on tundra vegetation: Heterogeneity over space and time'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this