Data from: Annual ring growth of a widespread high-arctic shrub reflects past fluctuations in community-level plant biomass

  • Mathilde Le Moullec (Creator)
  • Agata Buchwal (Creator)
  • Rene Van der Wal (Creator)
  • Lisa Sandal (Creator)
  • Brage Bremset Hansen (Creator)
  • Graeme Paton (Data Manager)



1. Long time-series of primary production are rarely available, restricting our mechanistic understanding of vegetation and ecosystem dynamics under climate change. Dendrochronological tools are increasingly used instead, particularly in the Arctic – the world’s most rapidly warming biome. Yet, high-latitude plant species are subject to strong energy allocation trade-offs, and whether annual allocations to secondary growth (e.g. ‘tree-rings’) actually reflects primary production above-ground remains unknown. Taking advantage of a unique ground-based monitoring time-series of annual vascular plant biomass in high Arctic Svalbard (78N), we evaluated how well retrospective ring growth of the widespread dwarf shrub Salix polaris represents above-ground biomass production of vascular plants.

2. Using a balanced design in permanent plots for plant biomass monitoring, we collected 30 S. polaris shrubs across five sites in each of two habitats. We established annual ring growth time-series using linear mixed-effects models and related them to local weather records and 13 years of above-ground biomass production in six habitats.

3. Annual ring growth was positively correlated with above-ground biomass production of both S. polaris (r = 0.56) and the vascular plant community as a whole (r = 0.70). As for above-ground biomass, summer temperature was the main driver of ring growth, with this ecological signal becoming particularly clear when accounting for plant, site and habitat heterogeneity. The results suggest that ring growth measurements performed on this dominating shrub can be used to track fluctuations in past vascular plant production of high-arctic tundra.

4. Synthesis. Dendrochronological tools are increasingly used on arctic shrubs to enhance our understanding of vegetation dynamics in the world’s most rapidly warming biome. Fundamental to such applications is the assumption that annual ring growth reflects between-year variation in above-ground biomass production. Here we showed that ring growth indeed was a robust proxy for the annual above-ground productivity of both the focal shrub and the vascular plant community as a whole. Despite the challenges of constructing ring growth chronologies from irregularly growing arctic shrubs, our findings confirm that shrub dendrochronology can open new opportunities for community-dynamic studies under climate change, including in remote places where annual field sampling is difficult to achieve.

Data type

rwl_Semmeldalen: Cross-section raw ring-widths (micrometers) in format "Tucson". See the associated file "Shrub_Semmeldalen_info".

Shrub_Semmeldalen_info: Description of the individual cross-sections with a description of the column names in the second sheet of this document.

Semmeldalen LME output: Ring growth and above-ground biomass time-series obtained from linear mixed-effects models. See the description of the column names in the second sheet of this document.

Copyright and Open Data Licencing

This work is licensed under a CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication license.
Date made available27 Jun 2019
PublisherDryad Digital Repository
Geographical coverageSvalbard


  • 1985-2014
  • Dendrochronology
  • Permanent Plots
  • plant population and community dynamics
  • Polar willow
  • Salix polaris
  • secondary growth
  • Tundra ecosystem
  • vegetation production

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