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Both seed germination and seedling mortality increase with experimental warming and fertilization in a subarctic tundra

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-article


  • Ann Milbau
  • Nicolas Vandeplas
  • Fred Kockelbergh
  • Ivan Nijs

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Original languageEnglish
JournalAoB Plants
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1-Sep-2017


Climate change is expected to force many species in arctic regions to migrate and track their climatic niche. This requires recruitment from seed, which currently shows very low rates in arctic regions, where long-lived and vegetatively reproducing plants dominate. Therefore, we pose the question whether recruitment (germination and seedling establishment) in arctic regions will significantly improve in a warmer world, and thus allow species to follow their climatic niche. We used a full factorial experiment to examine if realistic warmer temperatures (+3 °C; infrared radiation) and increased nitrogen availability (+1.4 g N m-2 y-1) affected germination, seedling survival and above- and belowground seedling biomass in five species common in subarctic regions (Anthoxanthumodoratum, Betula nana, Pinussylvestris, Solidagovirgaurea, Vacciniummyrtillus). We found that warming increased seedling emergence in all species, but that subsequent mortality also increased, resulting in no net warming effect on seedling establishment. Warming slightly increased aboveground seedling biomass. Fertilization, on the other hand, did not influence seedling biomass, but it increased seedling establishment in B. nana while it reduced establishment in V. myrtillus. This may help B. nana dominate over V. myrtillus in warmer tundra. Surprisingly, no interactive effects between warming and fertilization were found. The lack of a general positive response of seedling establishment to warmer and more nutrient-rich conditions, suggests that (sub)arctic species may experience difficulties in tracking their climatic niche. Predictions of future species distributions in artic regions solely based on abiotic factors may therefore overestimate species’ ranges due to their poor establishment. Also, the opposite response to fertilization of two key (sub)arctic dwarf shrubs, i.e. B. nana and V. myrtillus, could have important implications for the future development of arctic plant communities and argues for more research into the role of fertilization for plant establishment.

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