A multi-scale assessment of physiological processes in arctic tundra plants under natural and simulated climate change scenarios

Gregory Starr, Florida International University


Climate warming is predicted to cause an increase in the growing season by as much as 30% for regions of the arctic tundra. This will have a significant effect on the physiological activity of the vascular plant species and the ecosystem as a whole. The need to understand the possible physiological change within this ecosystem is confounded by the fact that research in this extreme environment has been limited to periods when conditions are most favorable, mid June–mid August. This study attempted to develop the most comprehensive understanding to date of the physiological activity of seven tundra plant species in the Alaskan Arctic under natural and lengthened growing season conditions. Four interrelated lines of research, scaling from cellular signals to ecosystem processes, set the foundation for this study. I established an experiment looking at the physiological response of arctic sedges to soil temperature stress with emphasis on the role of the hormone abscisic acid (ABA). A manipulation was also developed where the growing season was lengthened and soils were warmed in an attempt to determine the maximum physiological capacity of these seven vascular species. Additionally, the physiological capacities of four evergreens were tested in the subnivean environment along with the potential role anthocyanins play in their activity. The measurements were scaled up to determine the physiological role of these evergreens in maintaining ecosystem carbon fluxes. These studies determined that soil temperature differentials significantly affect vascular plant physiology. ABA appears to be a physiological modifier that limits stomatal processes when root temperatures are low. Photosynthetic capacity was limited by internal plant physiological mechanisms in the face of a lengthened growing season. Therefore shifts in ecosystem carbon dynamics are driven by changes in species composition and biomass production on a per/unit area basis. These studies also found that changes in soil temperatures will have a greater effect of physiological processes than would the same magnitude of change in air temperature. The subnivean environment exhibits conditions that are favorable for photosynthetic activity in evergreen species. These measurements when scaled to the ecosystem have a significant role in limiting the system's carbon source capacity.

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Recommended Citation

Starr, Gregory, "A multi-scale assessment of physiological processes in arctic tundra plants under natural and simulated climate change scenarios" (2001). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI9991549.