Environmental constraints on the growth, photosynthesis and reproductive development of Dryas octopetala at a high Arctic polar semi-desert, Svalbard



Wookey P, Robinson CH, Parsons AN, Welker JM, Press MC, Callaghan TV & Lee JA (1995) Environmental constraints on the growth, photosynthesis and reproductive development of Dryas octopetala at a high Arctic polar semi-desert, Svalbard. Oecologia, 102 (4), pp. 478-489.

Opportunities exist in high Arctic polar semidesert communities for colonisation of unvegetated ground by long-lived clonal plants such as Dryas octopetala. This can be achieved by lateral spread of vegetative ramets, or by sexual reproduction and seedling recruitment. The objectives of this study were (1) to determine whether these two means of proliferation show differential sensitivity to contrasting components of the abiotic environment (temperature, soil nutrient and water availability) and (2) to evaluate the potential for D. octopetala to respond to climate change by an increase in cover and biomass in polar semi-desert communities. Factorial environmental manipulations of growing season temperature, soil nutrient and water status were conducted over 3 years at a polar semi-desert community in Svalbard, Norway (78°56.12′N, 11°50.4′E) and both clonal and sexual reproductive performance, together with instantaneous net photosynthesis (Pn), were recorded during the third season (1993). D. octopetala capitalised rapidly on an amelioration in the availability of inorganic nutrients (N, P and K) by an expansion in leaf area and biomass supported by increased Pn per unit leaf weight, and by apparent luxury uptake of nutrients (particularly P). Several facets of sexual reproductive development and seed viability were markedly improved by elevated temperatures or soil nutrient availability. Thus although D. octopetala is a long-lived clonal plant, with many traits characteristic of stress resistance syndrome, it showed considerable phenotypic plasticity in response to environmental manipulations. The results support the hypothesis that clonal growth confers survival potential during unfavourable years, together with the ability to capitalise on nutrient flushes and recycle nutrients internally. Continued investment in sexual reproduction ensures that seed setting is successful during favourable years, even if these occur infrequently. Cimate warming in the high Arctic could thus result in changes in the cover, biomass and the relative significance of clonal versus sexual proliferation of D. octopetala (and thus the genetic diversity of the population) but the long-term responses will probably be constrained by lack of available nutrients. © 1995 Springer-Verlag.

Arctic; climate change; Dryas octopetala; L. ssp. octopetala; clonal growth; reproductive output;

Oecologia: Volume 102, Issue 4

Publication date31/12/1995
Date accepted by journal14/01/1995

People (1)


Professor Philip Wookey
Professor Philip Wookey

Professor, Biological and Environmental Sciences