We used a systematic review to synthesize available evidence on the effects of herbivore diversity on tundra ecosystems. Greater herbivore diversity led to increased abundance of herbivory marks and soil temperature, and to reduced total abundance of plants, graminoids and forbs, plant leaf size, plant height, moss depth, and litter abundance. In some cases, the effects of different functional groups of herbivores added up or compensated each other, leading respectively to stronger or weaker responses than would be expected for each group separately, and were modulated by environmental conditions.

Current knowledge on the role of herbivore diversity still remains limited and geographically biased towards well-established research locations, with a strong focus on impacts of vertebrate herbivores on vegetation. Future studies should explicitly address the role of herbivore diversity targeting a broader range of ecosystem responses and explicitly including invertebrate herbivores, to refine predictions on whether and where these shifts could mitigate or further amplify the impact of environmental changes on Arctic ecosystems.

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Reference: Barbero-Palacios, L., Barrio, I.C., García Criado, M. et al. Herbivore diversity effects on Arctic tundra ecosystems: a systematic review. Environ Evid 13, 6 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13750-024-00330-9

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Isabel C. Barrio, Agricultural University of Iceland, Lead of the UArctic Thematic Network on Herbivory