Arctic arthropod assemblages in habitats of differing shrub dominance

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Recent climate warming in the Arctic has caused advancement in the timing of snowmelt and expansion of shrubs into open tundra. Such an altered climate may directly and indirectly (via effects on vegetation) affect arctic arthropod abundance, diversity and assemblage taxonomic composition. To allow better predictions about how climate changes may affect these organisms, we compared arthropod assemblages between open and shrub-dominated tundra at three field sites in northern Alaska that encompass a range of shrub communities. Over ten weeks of sampling in 2011, pitfall traps captured significantly more arthropods in shrub plots than open tundra plots at two of the three sites. Furthermore, taxonomic richness and diversity were significantly greater in shrub plots than open tundra plots, although this pattern was site-specific as well. Patterns of abundance within the five most abundant arthropod orders differed, with spiders (Order: Araneae) more abundant in open tundra habitats and true bugs (Order: Hemiptera), flies (Order: Diptera), and wasps and bees (Order: Hymenoptera) more abundant in shrub-dominated habitats. Few strong relationships were found between vegetation and environmental variables and arthropod abundance; however, lichen cover seemed to be important for the overall abundance of arthropods. Some arthropod orders showed significant relationships with other vegetation variables, including maximum shrub height (Coleoptera) and foliar canopy cover (Diptera). As climate warming continues over the coming decades, and with further shrub expansion likely to occur, changes in arthropod abundance, richness, and diversity associated with shrub-dominated habitat may have important ecological effects on arctic food webs since arthropods play important ecological roles in the tundra, including in decomposition and trophic interactions.

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