The dwarf shrub Cassiope tetragona (Arctic bell-heather) is increasingly used for arctic climate reconstructions, the reliability of which depends on the existence of a linear climategrowth relationship. This relationship was examined over a high-arctic to sub-arctic temperature gradient and under multi-year artificial warming at a high-arctic site.
Growth chronologies of annual shoot length, as well as total leaf length, number of leaves and average leaf length per year, were constructed for three sites. Cassiope tetragona was sampled near its cold tolerance limit at Ny-lesund, Svalbard, at its assumed climatic optimum in Endalen, Svalbard, and near its European southern limit at Abisko, Sweden. Together these sites represent the entire temperature gradient of this species. Leaf life span was also determined. Each growing season from 2004 to 2010, 17 open top chambers (OTCs) were placed near Ny-lesund, thus increasing the daily mean temperatures by 123C. At the end of the 2010 growing season, shoots were harvested from OTCs and control plots, and growth parameters were measured.
All growth parameters, except average leaf length, exhibited a linear positive response (R-2 between 063 and 091) to mean July temperature over the temperature gradient. Average leaf life span was 14 years shorter in sub-arctic Sweden compared with arctic Svalbard. All growth parameters increased in response to the experimental warming; the leaf life span was, however, not significantly affected by OTC warming.
The linear July temperaturegrowth relationships, as well as the 7 year effect of experimental warming, confirm that the growth parameters annual shoot length, total leaf length and number of leaves per year can reliably be used for monitoring and reconstructing temperature changes. Furthermore, reconstructing July temperature from these parameters is not hampered by divergence.