Herbaceous Community Structure and Function in the Kluane Region
Our research on the herbaceous understory vegetation in the Kluane region, Yukon, has focused on the structure and function of natural forest understory and grassland communities. The research has involved two long-term projects. The first investigated fertilizer addition and mammalian herbivore exclosure in understory vegetation over a 20-year period and showed that nutrient availability, and not herbivory, controlled herbaceous biomass. Fertilization increased the amount and nutrient content of vegetation, but 13 species were lost, whereas natural levels of mammalian herbivory rarely affected this vegetation or its diversity. The second study investigated how removing plant functional groups from a grassland influences its functioning. Over a seven-year period, we determined that the identity of the functional group was important in determining ecosystem properties and that graminoids were more influential than expected from their proportional biomass. In both of these studies, short-term responses were transient and not indicative of longer-term responses of these communities. This finding reinforces the need for long-term experiments, especially in northern ecosystems. The long-term plots from both projects will continue to be valuable, and they may detect shifts in the plant community due to climate change or unique events in the area.