The response of boreal peatland community composition and NDVI to hydrologic change, warming, and elevated carbon dioxide
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Global Change Biology
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Widespread changes in arctic and boreal Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) values captured by satellite platforms indicate that northern ecosystems are experiencing rapid ecological change in response to climate warming. Increasing temperatures and altered hydrology are driving shifts in ecosystem biophysical properties that, observed by satellites, manifest as long-term changes in regional NDVI. In an effort to examine the underlying ecological drivers of these changes, we used field-scale remote sensing of NDVI to track peatland vegetation in experiments that manipulated hydrology, temperature, and carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. In addition to NDVI, we measured percent cover by species and leaf area index (LAI). We monitored two peatland types broadly representative of the boreal region. One site was a rich fen located near Fairbanks, Alaska, at the Alaska Peatland Experiment (APEX), and the second site was a nutrient-poor bog located in Northern Minnesota within the Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments (SPRUCE) experiment. We found that NDVI decreased with long-term reductions in soil moisture at the APEX site, coincident with a decrease in photosynthetic leaf area and the relative abundance of sedges. We observed increasing NDVI with elevated temperature at the SPRUCE site, associated with an increase in the relative abundance of shrubs and a decrease in forb cover. Warming treatments at the SPRUCE site also led to increases in the LAI of the shrub layer. We found no strong effects of elevated CO2 on community composition. Our findings support recent studies suggesting that changes in NDVI observed from satellite platforms may be the result of changes in community composition and ecosystem structure in response to climate warming.