NDVI changes in the Arctic: Functional significance in the moist acidic tundra of Northern Alaska

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TitleNDVI changes in the Arctic: Functional significance in the moist acidic tundra of Northern Alaska
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsR. Jespersen, G, Anderson-Smith, M, Sullivan, PF, Dial, RJ, Welker, JM
Date Publishedapr
Keywordscarbon dioxide, Ecosystems, Leaves, Lichenology, Light, LTER-ARC, Mosses, shrubs, Tundra, update-2023-02

The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), derived from reflected visible and infrared radiation, has been critical to understanding change across the Arctic, but relatively few ground truthing efforts have directly linked NDVI to structural and functional properties of Arctic tundra ecosystems. To improve the interpretation of changing NDVI within moist acidic tundra (MAT), a common Arctic ecosystem, we coupled measurements of NDVI, vegetation structure, and CO2 flux in seventy MAT plots, chosen to represent the full range of typical MAT vegetation conditions, over two growing seasons. Light-saturated photosynthesis, ecosystem respiration, and net ecosystem CO2 exchange were well predicted by NDVI, but not by vertically-projected leaf area, our nondestructive proxy for leaf area index (LAI). Further, our data indicate that NDVI in this ecosystem is driven primarily by the biochemical properties of the canopy leaves of the dominant plant functional types, rather than purely the amount of leaf area; NDVI was more strongly correlated with top cover and repeated cover of deciduous shrubs than other plant functional types, a finding supported by our data from separate “monotypic” plots. In these pure stands of a plant functional type, deciduous shrubs exhibited higher NDVI than any other plant functional type. Likewise, leaves from the two most common deciduous shrubs, Betula nana and Salix pulchra, exhibited higher leaf-level NDVI than those from the codominant graminoid, Eriophorum vaginatum. Our findings suggest that recent increases in NDVI in MAT in the North American Arctic are largely driven by expanding deciduous shrub canopies, with substantial implications for MAT ecosystem function, especially net carbon uptake.