Research Topic

Responses to Climate Change in the Cold Biomes

About this Research Topic

Climate change is thought to be especially relevant to ecosystems in the cold biomes. Observed warming has been higher in cold climates through various positive feedbacks, especially declining snow and ice cover, and climate projections indicate further rapid warming in the decades to come. Temperature change can have profound impacts in cold biome ecosystems, either directly in terms of impacts on physiology or growing season length, or indirectly via changes in nutrient cycling. The regions focused on here are the (sub)arctic and the (sub)alpine areas, both characterized by short growing seasons and low annual temperatures, but with different radiation environments depending on latitude.

Climate change can have impacts in all seasons. Increased spring temperatures can accelerate snowmelt, leading to an earlier onset of the growing season, while warmer summers may stimulate primary productivity through temperatures closer to metabolic optima and/or increased mineralization rates. Winter warming can lead to the vegetation being damaged because of exposure to harsh frost without insulating snow cover. In all of this, concurrent changes in precipitation also play an important role: increased snowfall can buffer warming-induced advances in snowmelt, a higher ratio of rain to snow can greatly accelerate snowmelt in winter and spring, and summer drought may reverse growth-stimulation by warming directly (drought stress) or indirectly (e.g. impaired nutrient uptake). Micro-climate is crucial in these systems and requires particular attention as it can vary widely across the landscape, creating different growing environments in the space of a few meters or even less.

Interest in cold region responses to climate change does not only arise from the fact that they harbor unique ecosystems that may be endangered, but also because they store large amounts of carbon that may be released under climate change. However, research is challenging because of the remoteness of many of these areas and the harsh conditions during much of the year. In spite of this, some studies have been carried out over an extensive period, spanning decades and yielding information on for example plant community reorganization (including invasions), and changes in phenology above- and/or belowground. Other studies focus on shorter term effects, such as impacts of heat waves, late frosts or other anomalous weather, including longer term (after-) effects that may differ drastically from other regions because of the short growing season in cold climates. Ultimately, models are used to predict future changes in vegetation along latitudinal or altitudinal gradients, although phenology and microclimatic variation may pose particular challenges.

Contributions to this Research Topic have to focus on climate change, including changes in the mean (e.g. gradual warming) and variability (e.g. heat waves, altered precipitation distribution) in cold biomes. Studies may report on observed changes or events, or they can look into experimentally imposed environmental changes. Modeling approaches will also be considered. Finally, we encourage submissions from various disciplines, including phenology, soil and vegetation science and biogeochemistry, as the aim of this Research Topic is to provide a comprehensive overview of observed and expected responses to climate change in cold biome ecosystems.


Keywords: Climate Change, Alpine, Arctic, Ecosystem Functioning, Vegetation Dynamics


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Climate change is thought to be especially relevant to ecosystems in the cold biomes. Observed warming has been higher in cold climates through various positive feedbacks, especially declining snow and ice cover, and climate projections indicate further rapid warming in the decades to come. Temperature change can have profound impacts in cold biome ecosystems, either directly in terms of impacts on physiology or growing season length, or indirectly via changes in nutrient cycling. The regions focused on here are the (sub)arctic and the (sub)alpine areas, both characterized by short growing seasons and low annual temperatures, but with different radiation environments depending on latitude.

Climate change can have impacts in all seasons. Increased spring temperatures can accelerate snowmelt, leading to an earlier onset of the growing season, while warmer summers may stimulate primary productivity through temperatures closer to metabolic optima and/or increased mineralization rates. Winter warming can lead to the vegetation being damaged because of exposure to harsh frost without insulating snow cover. In all of this, concurrent changes in precipitation also play an important role: increased snowfall can buffer warming-induced advances in snowmelt, a higher ratio of rain to snow can greatly accelerate snowmelt in winter and spring, and summer drought may reverse growth-stimulation by warming directly (drought stress) or indirectly (e.g. impaired nutrient uptake). Micro-climate is crucial in these systems and requires particular attention as it can vary widely across the landscape, creating different growing environments in the space of a few meters or even less.

Interest in cold region responses to climate change does not only arise from the fact that they harbor unique ecosystems that may be endangered, but also because they store large amounts of carbon that may be released under climate change. However, research is challenging because of the remoteness of many of these areas and the harsh conditions during much of the year. In spite of this, some studies have been carried out over an extensive period, spanning decades and yielding information on for example plant community reorganization (including invasions), and changes in phenology above- and/or belowground. Other studies focus on shorter term effects, such as impacts of heat waves, late frosts or other anomalous weather, including longer term (after-) effects that may differ drastically from other regions because of the short growing season in cold climates. Ultimately, models are used to predict future changes in vegetation along latitudinal or altitudinal gradients, although phenology and microclimatic variation may pose particular challenges.

Contributions to this Research Topic have to focus on climate change, including changes in the mean (e.g. gradual warming) and variability (e.g. heat waves, altered precipitation distribution) in cold biomes. Studies may report on observed changes or events, or they can look into experimentally imposed environmental changes. Modeling approaches will also be considered. Finally, we encourage submissions from various disciplines, including phenology, soil and vegetation science and biogeochemistry, as the aim of this Research Topic is to provide a comprehensive overview of observed and expected responses to climate change in cold biome ecosystems.


Keywords: Climate Change, Alpine, Arctic, Ecosystem Functioning, Vegetation Dynamics


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

15 January 2018 Abstract
15 April 2018 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

15 January 2018 Abstract
15 April 2018 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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