Mountain ecologist Jonas Lembrechts spent ten intense fieldwork days above the polar circle in Sweden and Norway, where he follows non-native plant species and their spread in the mountains. This post appears in a serie on this expedition. The story appears simultaneously in Dutch on Scilogs.be and in English on this website.
After the succesfull storming of the first mountain on day one, the team prepared for the real job. The next mountain – Mount Nuolja, the peak overlooking the beautiful Abisko’s national park – asked both for the follow-up of last years experiment and the installation of a new one. First, we hiked up to a thousand meters, close to the top of this beautiful mountain, to visit our study plants from last year.
Up there, it was immediately clear the plants had had some troubles. Winter only left the north for less then a week, and our soil temperature sensors showed this particular winter had been a serious beast: a long and continuous freezing period with temperatures of -12 till -15 °C even under the protective snow bed. The effect on our little plants could be expected: where last summer they all looked fresh and green, the situation now changed to a saddening brown. Maybe the subarctic tundra at a thousand meters of elevation really is to cold for our Western-European species…
But still. Right when we thought the plants had given up the battle, we found countless new seedlings in all our plots. Tiny, just millimeters tall, but fresh and ready to flourish in a new growing season of 24 hours sunlight. The fight is thus not over yet, the mountain still did not win. We will keep a close eye on these unbeatable little seedlings this summer, to see how far they will get.
We installed our new experiment on the lower mountain gradient, where chances on success where a little bit higher. Where the previous experiment mainly focussed on the mountain climate and its effect on the non-native plants, we changed our scope now to another highly important factor: disturbance. Our previous experiments clearly showed the decisive influence of disturbance in the tundra to allow intruding non-natives to grow.
By applying different kinds and sizes of disturbance, and seed our focal species in the newly created gaps, we try to get to the bottom of the growing patterns within such disturbances.
The fieldwork was very pleasant, with impressive views on Abisko’s beautiful valley.
Luckily, fieldwork was almost finished when the cloud was right on top of us, and we could see only a few little meters.
At least, as long as low clouds did not block our view.