Estimated change in tundra ecosystem function near Barrow, Alaska between 1972 and 2010

M. J. Lara, S. Villarreal, D. R. Johnson, R. D. Hollister, P. J. Webber, C. E. Tweedie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How the greening of Arctic landscapes manifests as a change in ecosystem structure and function remains largely unknown. This study investigates the likely implications of plant community change on ecosystem function in tundra near Barrow, Alaska. We use structural data from marked plots, established in 1972 and resampled in 1999, 2008 and 2010 to assess plant community change. Ecosystem functional studies were made close to peak growing season in 2008 and 2010 on destructive plots adjacent to marked plots and included measurement of landatmosphere CH 4 and CO 2 exchange, hyperspectral reflectance, albedo, water table height, soil moisture, and plant species cover and abundance. Species cover and abundance data from marked and destructive plots were analyzed together using non-metric multi-dimensional scaling (NMS) ordination. NMS axis scores from destructive plots were used to krig ecosystem function variables in ordination space and produce surface plots from which time series of functional attributes for resampled plots were derived. Generally, the greatest functional change was found in aquatic and wet plant communities, where productivity varied and soil moisture increased, increasing methane efflux. Functional change was minimal in moist and dry communities, which experienced a general decrease in soil moisture availability and appeared overall to be functionally more stable through time. Findings suggest that the Barrow landscape could have become less productive and less responsive to change and disturbance over the past few decades. This study is a contribution to the International Polar Year-Back to the Future Project (512).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number015507
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Alaska
  • Barrow
  • climate change
  • ecosystem function
  • International Biological Program
  • long-term change
  • plant community change

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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