Copse is a word rarely used in the context of Arctic environments. In the Greenlandic context, copse is used to describe the vegetation of bushes less than 3 m high consisting mostly of Salix glauca (willow), Alnus crispa (alder), and Betula pubescens (birch). A survey of floras and scientific publications identifies the word on only one occasion: The Flora of Greenland by Bocher et al. (1968) uses "copse" in the English edition as a translation of the Danish Krat.

Generally, copse (or sometimes coppice) is defined as "a thicket, grove, or growth of small trees" and forest originating mainly from shoots or root suckers rather than seed. Copse is probably a degenerated form of coppice, which originated from the French copeiz, from couper or "to cut." When used as a verb, coppice applies specifically to the traditional woodland management practice of repeatedly cutting broadleaf trees at their base to stimulate the production of multiple, relatively thin and even-sized stems from a common stump. The overall form of the managed trees is reminiscent of the short stature, polycormic (multiple stemmed) mountain birch trees (Betula pubescens spp. Czerepanovii) of the Fennoscandian Subarctic and similar growth forms of trees such as alder and willow that extend into the tundra of North America (Wielgolaski, 2001). While copse can be used to describe trees of shrubby growth, it also has a popular, but apparently unrecorded, use in the United Kingdom (and perhaps elsewhere) to describe small isolated stands (patches) of woodland in an otherwise open, agricultural landscape. In such cases, "oases" of trees in Arctic landscapes are relicts of former, more extensive forests that have either retreated southward during climatic cooling and inhabit particularly favorable sites or remain after forest fires. Some patches of conifers and deciduous trees such as aspen can survive in the tundra by reproducing from root suckers and form clones. This behavior fits one of the above definitions that is usually applied to situations outside the Arctic.

Although the term copse is rarely used today, it could be applied more generally and become increasingly used as scrub vegetation penetrates into the tundra during climate warming (Sturm et al., 2001).

Recent warming in some Arctic areas has resulted in an increase in shrubbiness of the tundra, a northern and upward advance of the treeline, and future warming is likely to also result in an expansion of individual trees and small groups of individuals currently beyond the treeline (Callaghan et al., 2002). At the same time, abandonment of coastal agricultural lands in coastal areas of northern Norway and a decrease in human populations and land use activities elsewhere is leading to increasing encroachment of patches of forest onto former species-rich hay meadows.

Terry V. Callaghan

See also Coniferous forests; Treeline; Tundra

Further Reading

Bocher, T.W., K. Holmen & K. Jakobsen, Flora of Greenland (English translation by T.T. Elkington and M.C. Lewis), Copenhagen: P. Haase and Sons 1968

Callaghan, T.V., B.R. Werkman & R.M. Crawford, "The tundrataiga interface and its dynamics: concepts and applications." Ambio Special Report (Tundra-Taiga Treeline Research), 12 (2002): 6-14

Payette, S., C. Morneau, L. Sirois, & M. Desponts, "Recent fire history of the northern Qu├ębec biomes." Ecology, 70 (1989): 656-673

Sturm, M., C. Racine & K. Tape, "Increasing shrub abundance in the Arctic." Nature, 411: (2001) 546-547

Wielgolaski, F.E. (editor), Nordic Mountain Birch Ecosystems. Man and the Biosphere, Volume 27, Parthenon: UNESCO 2001.

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