Are Svalbard plants prepared for the Climatic Change?

Climatic change and touristic pressure are imposing new conditions for Svalbard flora facilitating the establishment in Svalbard of several plant invasive species. We will analyze the photosynthetic capacity and stress tolerance of native and invasive species to determine specific strategies for conservation of Svalbard´s ecosystems.

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  • field work


  • terrestrial biology

Project Keywords

  • biosphere / vegetation / exotic vegetation
  • biosphere / vegetation / biomass

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Important climatic shifts, caused by the global warming, have been forecasted for the Artic. These changes may affect productivity, distribution and abundance of native plant species. Moreover, climate warming could increase the activity of different economic sectors like tourism. The enhancement of human activities is one of the most important factors driving biological invasions, what alter ecosystem processes and, thus, the services that those ecosystems offer to human societies. In this sense, both climate change and human activities in the Artic can potentially increase the establishment and/or expansion of alien species in areas such as Svalbard islands. A trade-off is hypothesized to exist between be productive or be stress tolerant. Species that invest most of their resources in traits related to growth (productivity) will have limited investment in protective traits and contrarily, species that invest most of their resources on protective traits (stress tolerance) will have lim- ited capacity to grow. This is the cost that must be paid to live in extreme environments such as the artic, which should favor a conservative strategy. However, this option can become detrimental when other spe- cies could benefit from climate warming increasing their competitive success. It is known that invasive species have higher capacity to occupy the space into the plant community thanks to their higher productivity (when the ecosystem is not limited by nutrients and/or environmental factors) linked to faster carbon assimilation (photosynthesis). This faster growth should be mediated through key-strategies determined importantly by the own leaf traits for each species. In previous works, those traits has been compared between native and invasive species observing that alien species have generally higher photosynthesis, ratio photosynthesis/respiration, water use efficiency, leaf nitrogen content and specific leaf area but contrarily their leaves live shorter. So, given the high plasticity and competitiveness of the alien species they could benefit of the climatic change effects over the native species and promote their growth in the Svalbard islands. The project will consist in two different phases: 1. We plan to perform a general screening of both Svalbard native species and invasive species, carrying out the Falcon test in several native and invasive species previously selected considering published data and the expertise on Svalbard flora and ecology of the Stein Rune Karlsen from Northern Research Institute – Norut Tromsø. This methodology allows large-scale multi-species comparisons and the establishment of correlative relationships between morpho-physiological traits and ecological attributes. Also, Svalbard species stress tolerance data will be compared with native species from other biomes of the Earth like Antarctica, central Andean range Chile, Atacama, and Namibia deserts between others. 2. After this general screening, we will focus in the most interesting species for a deeper understanding and to perform the anatomical leaf analysis and determine several structural traits. Artic plant communities during growing season are adapted to long photoperiods; so, this could be an advantage over invasive species from southern latitudes? Thus, we will also perform pigment analyses and in vivo photosynthesis complete characterization of these species employing HPLC equipment and infrared-gas analyzers coupled with chlorophyll fluorescence sensors. This project will improve our knowledge about the productivity and stress tolerance of the native and invasive flora of Svalbard islands, what will be helpful to identify both, the potentially most threatened native species and the potentially most invasive species in a climate change scenario. This information will be useful in the future to develop specific conservation strategies to contribute to the protection of Svalbard island ?s ecosys- tems in the framework of the climate change

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