Plant communities and soils in cryoturbated tundra along a bioclimate gradient in the Low Arctic, Alaska
Kade, Anja; Walker, Donald A.; Raynolds, Martha K.
Nonsorted circles and earth hummocks are important landscape components of the arctic tundra. Here we describe the vegetation on these frost-heave features at seven study sites along a N-S-transect from the Arctic Ocean to the Arctic Foothills, Alaska. We established 117 relevés in frost-heave features and surrounding tundra and classified the vegetation according to the Braun-Blanquet sorted-table method. We used Detrended Correspondence Analysis to analyze relationships between vegetation and environmental variables. We identified nine communities: Braya purpurascens-Puccinellia angustata community (dry nonsorted circles, subzone C); Dryas integrifolia-Salix arctica community (dry tundra, subzone C); Salici rotundifoliae-Caricetum aquatilis ass. nov. (moist coastal tundra, subzone C); Junco biglumis-Dryadetum integrifoliae ass. nov. (moist nonsorted circles, subzone D); Dryado integrifoliae-Caricetum bigelowii Walker et al. 1994 (moist tundra, subzone D); Scorpidium scorpioides-Carex aquatilis community (wet tundra, subzone D); Cladino-Vaccinietum vitis-idaeae ass. nov. (dry nonsorted circles and earth hummocks, subzone E); Sphagno-Eriophoretum vaginati Walker et al. 1994 (moist tundra, subzone E); and Anthelia juratzkana-Juncus biglumis community (wet nonsorted circles, subzone E).The DCA ordination displayed the vegetation types with respect to complex environmental gradients. The first axis of the ordination corresponds to a bioclimate/pH gradient, and the second axis corresponds to a disturbance/soil moisture gradient. Frost-heave features are dominated by lichens, whereas the adjacent tundra supports more dwarf shrubs, graminoids and mosses. Frost-heave features have greater thaw depths, more bare ground, thinner organic horizons and lower soil moisture than the surrounding tundra. The morphology of frost-heave features changes along the climatic gradient, with large, barren nonsorted circles dominating the northern sites and vegetated, less active earth hummocks dotting the southern sites. Thawing of permafrost and a possible shift in plant community composition due to global warming could lead to a decline in frost-heave features and result in the loss of landscape heterogeneity.