Consequences of treeline shifts for the diversity and function of high altitude ecosystems



Greenwood S & Jump A (2014) Consequences of treeline shifts for the diversity and function of high altitude ecosystems. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, 46 (4), pp. 829-840.

Treeline expansion is reported as a widespread response to rising temperatures, yet few studies have considered the impact of treeline advance on the diversity and function of high altitude systems. Evidence suggests that climate change is already having a negative impact on alpine diversity and is modifying functions such as carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling. Treeline advance is likely to further affect diversity and function, yet our understanding of the processes involved is limited. Here we review and synthesize literature that assesses the impact of treeline advance into treeless ecosystems. Using published literature, we explore to what extent treeline advance will lead to the displacement of alpine species and the fragmentation of alpine habitats. While large changes will be observed in the ecosystems above the current treeline as trees migrate, it is likely that these newly forested areas will deviate substantially from the established forests from which they have developed. Consequently, at the forest community level we investigate the potential for differential response speeds of typical forest plant species, and the potential for treeline advance to lead to community disassembly. Given that changes in species presence and abundance can alter the functional composition of plant communities, we explore the potential for shifts in tree distribution to lead to changes in carbon storage, nutrient cycling, and hydrological properties of ecosystems. Despite typically being intensively studied regions, the likely impact of forest expansion above the current mountain treeline has received relatively little attention and so we identify key knowledge gaps that should act as priorities for future research in mountain systems.

Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research: Volume 46, Issue 4

Publication date30/11/2014
Date accepted by journal01/07/2014
PublisherInstitute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), University of Colorado

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Professor Alistair Jump
Professor Alistair Jump

Dean of Natural Sciences, NS Management and Support