The treeline ecotone in northern Finnish Lapland is characterized by a mosaic of sites with highly varying environmental conditions. Density, age structure, growth, and root systems of mountain birch seedlings (Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii [Orlova] Hämet-Ahti) were studied in different microsite classes (deflation, lichen heath, dwarf shrub heath, hummock, willow shrub, sedge mire). On wind-exposed convex topography characterized by shortage of moisture and nutrients, seedling establishment is impeded, as is indicated by low seedling densities and lack of very young seedlings as well as by high rooting depths and root/shoot ratios of the few individuals. In sedge mires, birch seedlings occasionally occur in great numbers but die off at an early stage. Extremely shallow root systems point to anoxia as the main reason. Severe shoot damage is common to almost all saplings. This is likely due to grazing by reindeer (Rangifer t. tarandus). As a result, height growth is suppressed even on sites with otherwise relatively suitable conditions (e.g. willow shrub sites). Future effects of climate change which could locally improve conditions for germination and establishment of birch young growth might be overridden by the effects of high reindeer density.
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