We investigated the potential effects of global climate change on arctic tundra vegetation used as caribou forage. A total of 96 experimental plots was established at six sites on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, in 1993 and 1994. We erected snow-fences to increase the amount of snow deposition, and therefore delay the date of the snowmelt on 48 plots (referred to as increased snow/late melting plots). We used black mesh netting on the surface of the snow to increase the rate of melting on 24 plots; the remaining 24 plots served as controls. In July 1994, we collected green leaves from Eriophorum vaginatum, Salix planifolia, and Betula nana and analysed these samples for total carbon and total nitrogen content. Ratios of carbon to nitrogen differed among treatments for all three species. Generally, C:N ratios for B. nana and E. vaginatum on increased snow/late melting plots were lower than on control plots. C:N ratios for S. planifolia on increased snow/late melting plots did not differ from controls, but were lower than on plots which started to melt early. These results may be due to the timing of nitrogen translocation from leaf and stem tissue into storage organs, or due to an increase in available nitrogen input to the system. Further sampling is needed to adequately determine the mechanism responsible for increased nitrogen content of caribou forage in areas with increased amount of snow and delayed snowmelt. ?? 1997 Blackwell Science Ltd.
Additional publication details
Experimental manipulations of snow-depth: Effects on nutrient content of caribou forage