Large herbivores buffer plant communities against climate warming effects in the Arctic

An adult male caribou in Greenland. Credit: Eric Post, Penn State University

An adult male caribou in Greenland. Credit: Eric Post, Penn State University

In the face of changing climate, a question that becomes increasingly relevant is whether ecological communities can persist and remain intact as temperatures rise?

A study conducted in Greenland by Post (2013) simulated climate change and integrated the effects of large herbivores, such as caribou and musk ox,  in a 10-year Arctic field experiment. The results demonstrated that large herbivores maintain plant diversity, while warming climate reduces it; plant communities with lower diversity displayed a greater tendency towards instability in the warming climate, which was a pre-cursor to the loss of such communities.

The take away message from this study is that the interaction of large herbivores with their host plants may be curtail for maintenance of plant diversity within that ecosystem. Thus, factors that threaten these herbivore communities may threaten the plant communities they exist in.

Two adult male muskoxen in Greenland. Credit: Eric Post, Penn State University

Two adult male muskoxen in Greenland. Credit: Eric Post, Penn State University

Journal Reference:

Post, E. (2013). Erosion of community diversity and stability by herbivore removal under warming. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences280(1757), 20122722. doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.2722

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