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Potential of shrubs in the evolving field of Arctic and Alpine dendroecology : methods in shrub dendro-ecology: understanding the processes influencing shrub growth in the Arctic and Alpine ecosystems

  • Dendrochronology, the science of tree-rings is a tool which has been widely used for many years for understanding changes in the environment, as trees react to environmental changes over time. In the contemporary situation, where climate warming in the Arctic is unequivocal and its effects on the Alpine and tundra ecosystems are seen pronouncedly in the past decade, the role of dendro-studies and the use of trees and shrubs alike as proxies of change has become critical. Studies clearly indicate that warming in the Arctic and Alpine tundra has resulted in increased vegetation in recent years. Shrubs, in these sensitive ecosystems, have proven to be highly instrumental as they likely benefit from this warming and hence are good indicators and auditees of this change. Therefore, in this study, we investigate the potential of shrubs in the evolving field of dendro-ecology/climatology. Studies from classical dendrochronology used annual rings from trees. Further, because of shrub sensitivity to contemporary change, shrub-based dendrochronological research has increased at a notable scale in the last decade and will likely continue. This is because shrubs grow even beyond the tree line and promise environmental records from areas where tree growth is very limited or absent. However, a common limitation noted by most shrub studies is the very hard cross-dating due to asynchronous growth patterns. This limitation poses a major hurdle in shrub-based dendrochronological studies, as it renders weak detection of common signals in growth patterns in population stands. This common signal is traced by using a ‘site-chronology’. In this dissertation, I studied shrub growth through various resolutions, starting from understanding radial growth within individuals along the length of the stem, to comparison of radial growth responses among male and female shrubs, to comparing growth responses among trees and shrubs to investigation of biome-wide functional trait responses to current warming. Apart from Chapter 4 and Chapter 6, I largely used Juniperus communis sp. for investigations as it is the most widely distributed woody dioecious species often used in dendro-ecological investigations in the Northern Hemisphere. Primarily, we investigated radial growth patterns within shrubs to better understand growth within individuals by comparing different stem-disks from different stem heights within individuals. We found significant differences in radial growth from different stem-disks with respect to stem heights from same individuals. Furthermore, we found that these differences depending on the choice of the stem-disk affect the resulting site-chronology and hence climate-sensitivity to a substantial extent and that the choice of a stem-disk is a crucial precursor which affects climate-growth relationships. Secondly, we investigated if gender difference – often reported causing differential radial growth in dioecious trees – is an influential factor for heterogeneous growth. We found that at least in case of Juniperus communis. L and Juniperus communis ssp nana. WILLD there is no substantial gender biased difference in radial growth which might affect the site-chronology. We did find moderate differences between sexes in an overall analysis and attribute this to reproductive effort in females. In our study to test the potential of shrubs for reconstruction, we used a test case of Alnus viridis ssp crispa. We found a strong correlation between ring-width indices and summer temperature. Initially, the model failed the stability tests when we tested the stability of this relation using a response function model. However, using wood-anatomical analysis we discovered that this was because of abnormal cell-wall formation resulting in very thin rings in the year 2004. Pointer year analysis revealed that the thin rings were caused because of a moth larval outbreak and when corrected for these rings the model passed all stability tests. Furthermore, to see if trees and shrubs growing in same biomes react to environmental changes similarly, a network analysis with sites ranging from the Mediterranean biome to the Ural Mountains in Russia was carried out. We found that shrubs react better to the current climate warming and have a decoupled divergent temperature response as compared to coexisting trees. This outcome reiterated the importance of shrub studies in relation to contemporary climate change. Even though trees and shrubs are woody forms producing annual rings, they have very different growth patterns and need different methods for analysis and data treatment. Finally, in a domain-wide network analysis from plant-community vegetation survey, we investigated functional relationships between plant traits (leaf area, plant height, leaf nitrogen content, specific leaf area (SLA), and leaf dry matter content (LDMC)) and abiotic factors viz. temperature and soil moisture. We found a strong relation between summer temperature and community height, SLA and LDMC on a spatial scale. Contrarily, the temporal-analysis revealed SLA and LDMC lagged and did not respond to temperature over the last decade. We realized that there are complex interactions between intra-specific and inter-specific plant traits which differ spatially and temporally impacting Arctic ecosystems in terms of carbon turn over, surface albedo, water balance and heat-energy fluxes. We found that ecosystem functions in the Arctic are closely linked with plant height and will be indicative of warming in the short term future becoming key factors in modelling ecosystem projections.
  • Diese Doktorarbeit beschäftigt sich mit der Nutzung von Sträuchern in dem sich neu entwickelnden Feld der arktischen und alpinen Dendroökologie. Jahrringe von Sträuchern als Proxy für verschiedene Umweltparameter werde kritisch beleuchtet, indem Probleme aufgezeigt und Verbesserungsmöglichkeiten vorgeschlagen werden. In Fallstudien wird dann aufgezeigt wie die Jahrringdaten dann in Forschungsfragen auf verschiedensten Skalen genutzt werden können; von Holzzellen bis hin zu biomweiten Studien zu Pflanzenmerkmalen (Traits).

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Author:Dr Rohan Shetti
Title Additional (English):Potenzial der Sträucher - Fortschritte arktischer und alpiner Dendroökologie
Referee:Prof. Dr. Achim Bräuning, Prof. Dr. Martin WilmkingORCiD
Advisor:Prof. Dr. Martin Wilmking
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Year of Completion:2018
Date of first Publication:2018/12/06
Granting Institution:Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität, Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät (bis 31.05.2018)
Date of final exam:2018/09/28
Release Date:2018/12/06
Tag:Juniperus communis; climate change; dendrochronology; ecology; ecosystem dynamics; wood anatomy
GND Keyword:Shrubs, Annual rings, Ecosystem Dynamics, Climate Change, Vegetation Ecology
Page Number:203
Faculties:Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät / Institut für Botanik und Landschaftsökologie & Botanischer Garten
DDC class:500 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 500 Naturwissenschaften