[Researchers study ecosystems. Wedge in climate change. -cr]
Large herbivore helps rare species survive in warming Arctic
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA – DAVIS
Popularity is quite unusual. The fact that a species is much rarer, they exist in small densities throughout its range. How such rare species persist, especially in an environment that is experiencing rapid climate change, inspired a 15-year study in Arctic Greenland by the University of California, Davis.
Researchpublished in the journal Scientific reportsfound that caribou and muskoxen helped mitigate the effects of climate change on rare Arctic plants, lichens, and fungi at the study site.
The authors suggest that by limiting the abundances of the two most common plant species – dwarf birch and gray willow – large herbivores could allow other, less common species to exist instead. because it is shaded or blocked by nutrients by the canopy of woody shrubs, or is inhibited by leaf blight and cooler soil.
“This is further evidence that the conservation of large herbivores is indeed important for maintaining the compositional integrity of species-poor systems such as the Arctic tundra,” said the authors. Lead Eric Post, director of the UC Davis Polar Forum and a professor in the UC Davis Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology.
A rare find
Recent studies have shown that when rare species are at risk of extinction due to climate change, it is often due to the influence of local habitats. More rare species exist in regions with stable climates than in regions with variable climates. This study suggests that interactions between species may also be important in maintaining rare species under climate change.
For this study, scientists investigated the effects of warming and the presence or exclusion of large herbivores – reindeer and muskrats – on 14 tundra plant species, local y and fungi, three of which were common and 11 of which were rare in the study site. , look for popular or rare trends.
They found no predictive models related to warming. It makes some plants more common and others rarer.
But the presence or absence of caribou and muskoxen made a clear distinction. Exclusion of large herbivores from the study plots made seven species – five rare – less common and two more common, and resulted in common species dominating the study plots.
The important role of herbivores in maintaining biodiversity
Caribou at the study site near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, decreased from a few hundred in the early 2000s, at the start of this study, to more than 100 by the end of the study. Muskoxen increased from about 20 to 50 in the same period, according to a Research March 2021 Co-authored article. Meanwhile, the Arctic tundra is warming 2-3 times faster than the rest of the planet.
“Conservation of large herbivores will play an important role in preserving the Arctic tundra as it warms,” the Post said. “If the reindeer or the muskrat end up being locally extinct from parts of the Arctic, or even falling to severely low abundance, what we might see in response to warming is the resources are increasingly dominated by a few common species, such as shrubs.”
Post says that rare species make an important contribution to biodiversity, ecosystem function and resilience, largely because there are so many out there compared to common species.
“Innovative solutions to maintain tundra biodiversity, such as maintaining large intact herbivores populations, will help buffer this sensitive biome against climate change. climate change,” Post said.
Co-authors of this study include Christian Pedersen of the Norwegian Institute for Bioeconomic Research and David A. Watts of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Commission on Research and Exploration, and Penn State University.
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Large herbivores facilitate the survival of rare taxa under tundra warming
ARTICLE PUBLICATION DATE
January 25, 2022