Short-term responses of ecosystem carbon fluxes to experimental soil warming at the Swiss alpine treeline

Hagedorn, Frank ; Martin, Melissa ; Rixen, Christian ; Rusch, Silvan ; Bebi, Peter ; Zürcher, Alois ; Siegwolf, Rolf ; Wipf, Sonja ; Escape, Christophe ; Roy, Jacques ; Hättenschwiler, Stephan

In: Biogeochemistry, 2010, vol. 97, no. 1, p. 7-19

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    Climatic warming will probably have particularly large impacts on carbon fluxes in high altitude and latitude ecosystems due to their great stocks of labile soil C and high temperature sensitivity. At the alpine treeline, we experimentally warmed undisturbed soils by 4K for one growing season with heating cables at the soil surface and measured the response of net C uptake by plants, of soil respiration, and of leaching of dissolved organic carbon (DOC). Soil warming increased soil CO2 effluxes instantaneously and throughout the whole vegetation period (+45%; +120gCmy−1). In contrast, DOC leaching showed a negligible response of a 5% increase (NS). Annual C uptake of new shoots was not significantly affected by elevated soil temperatures, with a 17, 12, and 14% increase for larch, pine, and dwarf shrubs, respectively, resulting in an overall increase in net C uptake by plants of 20-40gCm−2y−1. The Q 10 of 3.0 measured for soil respiration did not change compared to a 3-year period before the warming treatment started, suggesting little impact of warming-induced lower soil moisture (−15% relative decrease) or increased soil C losses. The fraction of recent plant-derived C in soil respired CO2 from warmed soils was smaller than that from control soils (25 vs. 40% of total C respired), which implies that the warming-induced increase in soil CO2 efflux resulted mainly from mineralization of older SOM rather than from stimulated root respiration. In summary, one season of 4K soil warming, representative of hot years, led to C losses from the studied alpine treeline ecosystem by increasing SOM decomposition more than C gains through plant growth