Greater Abundance of Betula nana and Early Onset of the Growing Season Increase Ecosystem CO2 Uptake in West Greenland

Sean M.P. Cahoon, Patrick F. Sullivan, Eric Post

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Expansion of deciduous shrubs is a common observation throughout the Arctic, with implications for carbon (C) cycling. Shrubs may increase net ecosystem C uptake through greater leaf area and gross ecosystem photosynthesis (GEP), and/or through cooler summer soils and reduced ecosystem respiration (ER). We used a space-for-time substitution combined with experimental warming at a Low Arctic site in West Greenland to examine the biophysical effects of increased temperature and Betula nana abundance on ecosystem CO2 exchange. Communities dominated by Betula were much stronger C sinks than graminoid communities due to greater GEP and lower ER. The warming treatment had little effect on GEP, ER, or net ecosystem CO2 exchange (NEE). The start of the growing season has been advancing at our study site, as indicated by long-term observations of plant phenology. In a retrospective analysis, we estimate that earlier onset of the growing season has increased the strength of the ecosystem C sink at rates of 1.3 and 2.1 g C m−2 y−1 in Betula and graminoid tundra, respectively, since 2002. However, earlier, and presumably longer, growing seasons may be associated with greater potential for drought stress. Our data suggest that mid-summer drought-induced GEP declines may partially offset C gains associated with an earlier start to the growing season. Our results suggest greater deciduous shrub abundance and longer growing seasons will likely lead to greater net C uptake in our study area, while highlighting important complexities associated with drought and plant community composition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1149-1163
Number of pages15
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology


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