Question: How is tundra vegetation related to climatic, soil chemical, geological variables and grazing across a very large section of the Eurasian arctic area? We were particularly interested in broad-scale vegetation-environment relationships and how well do the patterns conform to climate-vegetation schemes.
Material and Methods: We sampled vegetation in 1132 plots from 16 sites from different parts of the Eurasian tundra. Clustering and ordination techniques were used for analysing compositional patterns. Vegetation-environment relationships were analysed by fitting of environmental vectors and smooth surfaces onto non-metric multidimensional scaling scattergrams.
Results: Dominant vegetation differentiation was associated with a complex set of environmental variables. A general trend differentiated cold and continental areas from relatively warm and weakly continental areas, and several soil chemical and physical variables were associated with this broad-scaled differentiation. Especially soil chemical variables related to soil acidity (pH, Ca) showed linear relationships with the dominant vegetation gradient. This was closely related to increasing cryoperturbation, decreasing precipitation and cooler conditions. Remarkable differences among relatively adjacent sites suggest that local factors such as geological properties and lemming grazing may strongly drive vegetation differentiation.
Conclusions: Vegetation differentiation in tundra areas conforms to a major ecocline underlain by a complex set of environmental gradients, where precipitation, thermal conditions and soil chemical and physical processes are coupled. However, local factors such as bedrock conditions and lemming grazing may cause marked deviations from the general climate-vegetation models. Overall, soil chemical factors (pH, Ca) turned out to have linear relationship with the broad-scale differentiation of arctic vegetation.
Abbreviation: NMDS = Non-metric Multidimensional Scaling.