Study site and experimental design
The study site, experimental design, and annual sampling protocol have been described in previous publications 13,20,45 but a summary will be provided here. The experiment was conducted at a remote study site approximately 20km northeast of Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, at 67.11o N latitude and 50.34o W longitude. The surrounding area has functioned as an important caribou migration corridor, calving ground, and Indigenous Peoples hunting site for at least approximately 4,000 years 46, and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Aasivissuit - Nipisat, by the United Nations in 2018. Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) are present in greatest numbers seasonally, with most of the animals that use the site migrating into it during late winter and early spring and migrating out of it in mid to late summer; some male caribou remain at the site through winter. Muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) are present at the site year-round. Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) and rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) occupy the site in low numbers. In contrast to other locations in the Arctic where they are important herbivores, this site does not harbor voles or lemmings.
In June 2002 we erected six exclosures constructed of woven wire fencing material supported by steel t-posts; each exclosure was circular and measured 800m2. Adjacent to each exclosure, and separated from it by approximately 20 - 50m, we located a comparable control site. In early May 2003, prior to onset of the plant growing season, we installed passive, open-topped warming chambers constructed of UV neutral glazing material on three plots inside and three plots outside of one exclosure site and three plots inside and four plots outside of a second exclosure site. In early May 2004, we added three warming chambers inside and three warming chambers outside one of the sites equipped in 2003, and we installed an additional three warming chambers on plots inside and three warming chambers on plots outside of a third exclosure site, thus resulting in a total of 12 warmed plots distributed among three exclosure sites and 13 warmed plots distributed among three control (grazed) sites. An ambient (control) plot was located near, but not closer than 2m to, each warmed plot, thus resulting in 25 warmed plots and 25 ambient plots distributed among three exclosures and adjacent grazed sites. No plot was located closer than 2m to the edge of any exclosure. Warming chambers were constructed according to the International Tundra Experiment (ITEX) protocol 47, were 1.5m in basal diameter, and encompassed 1.77m2. Warming chambers were installed in early May each year, anchored to plots using metal garden stakes, and removed annually at the time of vegetation sampling, which was intended to coincide with peak aboveground abundance at mid to late July in most years (except in 2006, when sampling was conducted in mid-June, and in 2003 and 2011 when sampling was conducted in mid-August) 45. Warming chambers significantly elevated near surface temperature by approximately 1.5oC to 3.0oC, and resulted in a non-significant reduction of soil moisture 20,48.
Vegetation sampling was conducted non-destructively using a square Plexiglas tabletop point frame on adjustable aluminum legs. The point frame measure 0.25m2 and was centered within each plot for sampling. The corners of each plot were equipped with hollow aluminum tubes sunk into the soil surface at the cardinal directions, and the legs of the point frame were inserted into these tubes to ensure consistent orientation and location of the frame during sampling. Once the frame was positioned, a steel welding pin was lowered through each of 20 randomly located holes in the point frame tabletop, and each encounter by the tip of the pin with vegetation was recorded until the pin struck soil, litter, or rock. In 2003 and 2004, vegetation was recorded at the species level for deciduous shrubs (Betula nana and Salix glauca) and at the functional group level for graminoids (including grasses, rushes, and sedges of the genera Calamagrostis sp., Poa sp., Festuca sp., Hierochloë sp., Trisetum spicatum, Luzula sp., Carex sp., and Kobresia sp.), forbs, mosses, lichens, and fungi. Beginning in 2005, vegetation was recorded at the species level for forbs, lichens, and fungi, in addition to deciduous shrubs, and at the genus level for lichens (Peltigera sp.), fungi [Calvatia sp.; most likely C. cretacea 49], and mosses (Aulacomnium sp.). Graminoids were not resolved to the genus or species levels due to concerns about consistent identification.
Ecologically meaningful estimation of commonness is inherently relative; a taxon is only common or rare in relation to other taxa 4. While there exist a considerable array quantitative indices of commonness 50, we opted for one that integrates abundance and occurrence by assigning equal weight to each. Using annual abundance sums obtained during point frame sampling, we calculated commonness for each taxon as the product of its proportional abundance across all plots within each treatment and its proportional occurrence across all plots within each treatment. Hence, the commonness (C) of an individual taxon, i, in a given year, t, can be expressed as the product of its proportional abundance (A) and proportional occurrence (O) in that year:
in which proportional abundance of taxon i in year t is the sum of point frame pin intercepts, h, for that taxon in that year across all plots sampled that year divided by the total number of point frame pin intercepts, H, of live vegetation biomass recorded across all plots sampled that year:
and in which proportional occurrence of taxon i in year t is the sum of the number of plots, p, on which point frame pin intercepts of taxon i were recorded in year t divided by the total number of plots, P, sampled in year t:
This index was used to estimate taxon-specific commonness within each experimental treatment combination (i.e., exclosed ambient, exclosed warmed, grazed ambient, and grazed warmed treatments), as well as across the entire site (sitewide commonness) for derivation of baseline commonness. To derive baseline commonness for subsequent analysis of its contribution to taxon-specific trends in commonness over the course of the experiment, we used sitewide commonness of each taxon in the year 2006. As described above, greater taxonomic resolution beyond functional group was not widely applied in our sampling until the third year of the experiment, 2005. However, we decided against using 2005 as a baseline for commonness at the site because it also happened to be the final year of a two-year outbreak of caterpillar larvae of a noctuid moth, Eurois occulta, that reduced aboveground abundance of nearly all taxa on our plots 20,51.
Analysis of experimental treatment effects on plant functional group abundance
We used a Gaussian generalized linear model (GLM) with an identity link function to analyze variation in functional group abundance among experimental treatment combinations. This GLM included total annual abundance, for the period 2003 - 2017, of deciduous shrubs (comprising summed abundances of Betula nana and Salix glauca leaf and stem point frame pin intercepts), graminoids (comprising all grass, rush, and sedge tissue point frame pin intercepts), forbs, mosses, lichens, or fungi, in separate models with experimental treatment and year as factors and day of year of sampling as a continuous covariate. Significance of individual treatment effects of warming and herbivore exclusion, as well as their interaction, was determined based on Wald Chi-square statistics and associated two-tailed P-values (with significance indicated at P ≤ 0.05).
Analysis of experimental treatment effects on commonness
Analyses of commonness data were performed at higher taxonomic resolution than were analyses of abundance data, and so were limited to analysis of data from the last 12 years of the experiment, 2006 - 2017. Using equation (1), commonness was estimated for 14 taxa, including two species of deciduous shrubs, Betula nana and Salix glauca; graminoids, comprising at least eight non-distinguished genera of grasses, rushes, and sedges listed above in the sub-section Vegetation sampling; eight species of forbs, including Equisetum arvense, Stellaria longipes, Cerastium alpinum, Bistorta vivparum, Draba nivalis, Campanula gieseckiana, Viola canina, and Pyrola grandiflorum; one genus of moss, Aulacomnium sp.; one genus of fungus, Calvatia sp.; and one genus of lichen, Peltigera sp.
We first investigated general characteristics of and treatment effects on commonness across the study site. We examined the skewness of commonness to determine whether the distribution of the 14 focal taxa was significantly right-skewed, indicating a greater numbers of rare than of common taxa 1. We obtained an estimate of skewness and its standard error across pooled data for the period 2003 - 2017, derived a 95% confidence interval, and compared it to zero. Next, we examined experimental treatment effects on sitewide commonness. To do this, we used a Gaussian GLM with identity link function to analyze pooled commonness of all taxa for the period 2006 - 2017, with commonness as the dependent variable and experimental treatment, year, and taxon as fixed factors, and day of year of sampling as a covariate. We determined significance of individual treatment effects and their interaction by examining Wald Chi-square statistics, with significance indicated if the two-tailed P ≤ 0.05. We then tested for experimental treatment effects on individual taxa using the same analytical approach, but with taxon-specific commonness as the dependent variable, and treatment and year as factors, with day of year of sampling as a covariate.
Analysis of trends in commonness and skewness of commonness over the last 12 years of the experiment
We next investigated whether common and rare taxa displayed different trends in commonness over the course of the last 12 years of the experiment. This was motivated by a presupposition that warming and/or herbivore exclusion might have differentially altered commonness of common vs. rare species. We first examined linear trends in sitewide commonness of all 14 taxa pooled across experimental treatments by testing for significance of linear regressions of taxon-specific commonness vs. year for the period 2006 - 2017. We then conducted the same analysis for each taxon individually under each experimental treatment combination to determine whether our experimental manipulations contributed to trends differentially in common vs. rare taxa. We then investigated whether the distribution of commonness across the 14 focal taxa displayed directional change over the course of the final 12 years of the experiment, and whether it might have done so differently in relation to experimental treatment combinations. To do this, we tested for significance of linear regressions of treatment-specific skewness of commonness vs. year for the period 2006 - 2017. Finally, we examined whether trends in commonness were related to baseline commonness for the 13 taxa resolved to the genus or species level, excluding graminoids because this group comprised multiple unresolved genera. This analysis was motivated by interest in determining whether taxa that were common at the beginning of the experiment tended to become more common and taxa that were rare at the beginning of the experiment tended to become rarer, thus indicating that degree of commonness itself might be an important driver of changes in commonness over the course of a multi-annual experiment such as ours. To do this, we fit a non-linear regression model using a von Bertalanffy equation to quantify the relationship between taxon-specific commonness trend (standardized coefficient from the regression of commonness vs. year, ranging between -1 and 1) and baseline commonness by treatment. This equation took the form:
In which Y = taxon- and treatment-specific commonness trend, estimated in this case using the standardized coefficient from a linear regression of commonness of taxon i under a given experimental treatment combination vs. year; a = the Y-intercept; b = the slope; and X = baseline commonness of taxon i under the same treatment combination in 2006. Significance of regressions for each treatment was determined by calculating an F-statistic using corrected model sums of squares, error sums of squares, model degrees of freedom, and error degrees of freedom. Non-linear regression models were considered significant if the F-associated P ≤ 0.05.