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Responses of Cassiope tetragona, a high Arctic evergreen dwarf shrub, to variations in growing season temperature and growing season length at Alexandra Fiord, Ellesmere Island Johnstone, Jill F.


The short-term responses of Cassiope tetragona, a high arctic evergreen shrub, to variations in growing season climate were examined using experimental manipulations of temperature and growing season length at Alexandra Fiord, Ellesmere Island. Surface temperatures in the field were increased an average of 1-2 °C in two communities using open-top greenhouses. Growing season length was altered in a snowbed community by using manual snow manipulations to change the date of snowmelt. Growth and reproductive responses of Cassiope tetragona to these manipulations were observed over two field seasons following treatment establishment. Natural variations in vegetative and reproductive characteristics of Cassiope tetragona were also monitored in unmanipulated communities selected to represent a range of environmental conditions at the study site. Retrospective analysis of past Cassiope growth and reproduction was used to provide a record of variations in productivity spanning 25-35 years which could be related to climate records from Ellesmere Island. For the retrospective analysis, patterns of internode lengths were used to delimit sections of annual growth and chronologies of annual stem elongation, leaf number and flower number were then analyzed using methods similar to those applied to tree-ring studies. In general, the reproductive parameters of Cassiope tetragona were observed to be highly responsive to short-term variations in growing season climate, while vegetative production exhibited a much more conservative response. Flower production and rates of reproductive development were significantly stimulated by experimental warming. Retrospective analysis of flower production support field observations indicating that flower production is highly sensitive to annual variations in growing season temperatures. In contrast, shoot growth showed moderate responses to experimental warming. Records of past growth indicate that although vegetative production appears to be sensitive to annual variations in summer temperatures, the degree of responsiveness is much lower than for reproductive parameters. Net growth and reproduction were not stronly affected by natural or experimental variations in snowmelt timing, although phenology timing was significantly altered. The conservative growth response of Cassiope tetragona to short-term variations in climate is suggested to be related to constraints on plant phenology which may restrict flexibility in the period utilized by plants for aboveground growth. Preferential allocation of within-plant resources to reproductive structures during periods of ameliorated growing season climate may account for the observed strong reproductive responses to climate variations. Trade-offs betweeen growth and reproduction have important implications for predicting the long-term response of Cassiope tetragona to climate change. An understanding of within-plant allocation strategies is also important to the interpretation of past variations in growth and reproduction. Retrospective analysis of past Cassiope production is likely to be a very useful tool for investigating ecological relationships and past climate change.

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