Climate sensitivity of shrub growth across the tundra biome

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Rapid climate warming in the tundra biome has been linked to increasing shrub dominance. Shrub expansion can modify climate by altering surface albedo, energy and water balance, and permafrost, yet the drivers of shrub growth remain poorly understood. Dendroecological data consisting of multi-decadal time series of annual shrub growth provide an underused resource to explore climate-growth relationships. Here, we analyse circumpolar data from 37 Arctic and alpine sites in 9 countries, including 25 species, and â 1/442,000 annual growth records from 1,821 individuals. Our analyses demonstrate that the sensitivity of shrub growth to climate was: (1) heterogeneous, with European sites showing greater summer temperature sensitivity than North American sites, and (2) higher at sites with greater soil moisture and for taller shrubs (for example, alders and willows) growing at their northern or upper elevational range edges. Across latitude, climate sensitivity of growth was greatest at the boundary between the Low and High Arctic, where permafrost is thawing and most of the global permafrost soil carbon pool is stored. The observed variation in climate-shrub growth relationships should be incorporated into Earth system models to improve future projections of climate change impacts across the tundra biome.


  • Isla H. Myers-Smith
  • Sarah C. Elmendorf
  • Pieter S A Beck
  • Martin Wilmking
  • Martin Hallinger
  • Daan Blok
  • Ken D. Tape
  • Shelly A. Rayback
  • Marc Macias-Fauria
  • Bruce C. Forbes
  • James D M Speed
  • Noémie Boulanger-Lapointe
  • Christian Rixen
  • Esther Lévesque
  • Niels Martin Schmidt
  • Claudia Baittinger
  • Andrew J. Trant
  • Luise Hermanutz
  • Laura Siegwart Collier
  • Melissa A. Dawes
  • And 13 others
  • Trevor C. Lantz
  • Stef Weijers
  • Rasmus Halfdan JØrgensen
  • Agata Buchwal
  • Allan Buras
  • Adam T. Naito
  • Virve Ravolainen
  • Gabriela Schaepman-Strub
  • Julia A. Wheeler
  • Sonja Wipf
  • Kevin C. Guay
  • David S. Hik
  • Mark Vellend
External organisations
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Colorado
  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • University of Greifswald
  • Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
  • University of Copenhagen
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Oxford
  • University of Lapland
  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology
  • University of British Columbia
  • WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF
  • University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières
  • Aarhus University
  • National Museum of Denmark
  • Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • University of Victoria
  • University of Bonn
  • Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań
  • Texas A and M University
  • Norwegian Polar Institute
  • University of Zurich
  • University of Basel
  • University of Alberta
  • Sherbrooke University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Physical Geography
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)887-891
Number of pages5
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Aug 21
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes