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      Mosses modify effects of warmer and wetter conditions on tree seedlings at the alpine treeline.

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          Climate warming enables tree seedling establishment beyond the current alpine treeline, but to achieve this, seedlings have to establish within existing tundra vegetation. In tundra, mosses are a prominent feature, known to regulate soil temperature and moisture through their physical structure and associated water retention capacity. Moss presence and species identity might therefore modify the impact of increases in temperature and precipitation on tree seedling establishment at the arctic-alpine treeline. We followed Betula pubescens and Pinus sylvestris seedling survival and growth during three growing seasons in the field. Tree seedlings were transplanted along a natural precipitation gradient at the subarctic-alpine treeline in northern Sweden, into plots dominated by each of three common moss species and exposed to combinations of moss removal and experimental warming by open-top chambers (OTCs). Independent of climate, the presence of feather moss, but not Sphagnum, strongly supressed survival of both tree species. Positive effects of warming and precipitation on survival and growth of B. pubescens seedlings occurred in the absence of mosses and as expected, this was partly dependent on moss species. P. sylvestris survival was greatest at high precipitation, and this effect was more pronounced in Sphagnum than in feather moss plots irrespective of whether the mosses had been removed or not. Moss presence did not reduce the effects of OTCs on soil temperature. Mosses therefore modified seedling response to climate through other mechanisms, such as altered competition or nutrient availability. We conclude that both moss presence and species identity pose a strong control on seedling establishment at the alpine treeline, and that in some cases mosses weaken climate-change effects on seedling establishment. Changes in moss abundance and species composition therefore have the potential to hamper treeline expansion induced by climate warming.

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          Author and article information

          Glob Chang Biol
          Global change biology
          Oct 2020
          : 26
          : 10
          [1 ] Climate Impacts Research Centre, Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå University, Abisko, Sweden.
          [2 ] Department of Biology, Terrestrial Ecology Section, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.
          [3 ] Experimental Plant Ecology, Institute for Botany and Landscape Ecology, University of Greifswald, Greifswald, Germany.
          [4 ] Department of Soil and Environment, Swedish Agricultural University, Uppsala, Sweden.
          [5 ] Center for Permafrost (CENPERM), University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.
          [6 ] Department of Forest Ecology and Management, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umeå, Sweden.
          [7 ] Asian School of the Environment, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore.
          © 2020 The Authors. Global Change Biology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

          Arctic,Betula pubescens,Pinus sylvestris,bryophytes,climate change,plant interactions,precipitation,treeline expansion


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