Changes in high arctic tundra plant reproduction in response to long-term experimental warming

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We provide new information on changes in tundra plant sexual reproduction in response to long-term (12 years) experimental warming in the High Arctic. Open-top chambers (OTCs) were used to increase growing season temperatures by 1-2 °C across a range of vascular plant communities. The warming enhanced reproductive effort and success in most species; shrubs and graminoids appeared to be more responsive than forbs. We found that the measured effects of warming on sexual reproduction were more consistently positive and to a greater degree in polar oasis compared with polar semidesert vascular plant communities. Our findings support predictions that long-term warming in the High Arctic will likely enhance sexual reproduction in tundra plants, which could lead to an increase in plant cover. Greater abundance of vegetation has implications for primary consumers - via increased forage availability, and the global carbon budget - as a function of changes in permafrost and vegetation acting as a carbon sink. Enhanced sexual reproduction in Arctic vascular plants may lead to increased genetic variability of offspring, and consequently improved chances of survival in a changing environment. Our findings also indicate that with future warming, polar oases may play an important role as a seed source to the surrounding polar desert landscape.

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