Vole and lemming activity observed from space
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionNature Climate Change. 2012, 2 (Dec 2012), 880-883. 10.1038/NCLIMATE1537
Predicting the impacts of present global warming requires an understanding of the factors controlling plant biomass and production. The extent to which they are controlled by bottom-up drivers such as climate, nutrient and water availability, and by top-down drivers such as herbivory and diseases in terrestrial systems is still under debate1. By annually recording plant biomass and community composition in grazed control plots and in herbivore-free exclosures, at 12 sites in a subArctic ecosystem, we were able to show that the regular interannual density fluctuations of voles and lemmings drive synchronous interannual fluctuations in the biomass of field-layer vegetation. Plant biomass in the field layer was between 12 and 24% lower the year after a vole peak than the year before, and the combined vole and lemming peaks are visible as a reduced normalized difference vegetation index in satellite images over a 770 km2 area in the following year, despite the wide range of abiotic, biotic and anthropogenic forces that influence the vegetation2–5. This strongly suggests that the cascading effect of rodents for the function and diversity of tundra plant communities needs to be included in our scenarios of how these ecosystems will respond to environmental changes.