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Short-term climate change manipulation effects do not scale up to long-term legacies: effects of an absent snow cover on boreal forest plants
Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences. (Climate Impacts Research Centre ; Arcum)
Greifswald University.
Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet Umeå.
Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences. Research Institute for Nature and Forest INBO, Kliniekstraat 25, 1070 Brussels, Belgium. (Climate Impacts Research Centre ; Arcum)
2016 (English)In: Journal of Ecology, ISSN 0022-0477, E-ISSN 1365-2745Article in journal (Refereed) Epub ahead of print
Abstract [en]

1. Despite time-lags and nonlinearity in ecological processes, the majority of our knowledge about ecosystem responses to long-term changes in climate originates from relatively short-term experiments.

2. We utilized the longest ongoing snow removal experiment in the world and an additional set of new plots at the same location in northern Sweden to simultaneously measure the effects of longterm (11 winters) and short-term (1 winter) absence of snow cover on boreal forest understorey plants, including the effects on root growth and phenology.

3. Short-term absence of snow reduced vascular plant cover in the understorey by 42%, reduced fine root biomass by 16%, reduced shoot growth by up to 53% and induced tissue damage on two common dwarf shrubs. In the long-term manipulation, more substantial effects on understorey plant cover (92% reduced) and standing fine root biomass (39% reduced) were observed, whereas other response parameters, such as tissue damage, were observed less. Fine root growth was generally reduced, and its initiation delayed by c. 3 (short-term) to 6 weeks (long-term manipulation).

4. Synthesis. We show that one extreme winter with a reduced snow cover can already induce ecologically significant alterations. We also show that long-term changes were smaller than suggested by an extrapolation of short-term manipulation results (using a constant proportional decline). In addition, some of those negative responses, such as frost damage and shoot growth, were even absolutely stronger in the short-term compared to the long-term manipulation. This suggests adaptation or survival of only those individuals that are able to cope with these extreme winter conditions, and that the short-term manipulation alone would overpredict long-term impacts. These results highlight both the ecological importance of snow cover in this boreal forest, and the value of combining short- and long-term experiments side by side in climate change research.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
minirhizotron, Norway spruce, Picea abies, plant–climate interactions, root phenology, snow removal, soil frost, understory, Vaccinium
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-124756DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.12636OAI: diva2:954751
Available from: 2016-08-23 Created: 2016-08-23 Last updated: 2016-09-23
In thesis
1. The hidden life of plants: fine root dynamics in northern ecosystems
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The hidden life of plants: fine root dynamics in northern ecosystems
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Fine roots constitute a large part of the primary production in northern (arctic and boreal) ecosystems, and are key players in ecosystem fluxes of water, nutrients and carbon. Data on root dynamics are generally rare, especially so in northern ecosystems. However, those ecosystems undergo the most rapid climatic changes on the planet and a profound understanding of form, function and dynamics of roots in such ecosystems is essential.

This thesis aimed to advance our knowledge about fine root dynamics in northern ecosystems, with a focus on fine root phenology in natural plant communities and how climate change might alter it. Factors considered included thickness and duration of snow cover, thawing of permafrost, as well as natural gradients in temperature. Experiments and observational studies were located around Abisko (68°21' N, 18°45' E), and in a boreal forest close to Vindeln (64°14'N, 19°46'E), northern Sweden. Root responses included root growth, total root length, and root litter input, always involving seasonal changes therein, measured with minirhizotrons. Root biomass was also determined with destructive soil sampling. Additionally, aboveground response parameters, such as phenology and growth, and environmental parameters, such as air and soil temperatures, were assessed.

This thesis reveals that aboveground patterns or responses cannot be directly translated belowground and urges a decoupling of above- and belowground phenology in terrestrial biosphere models. Specifically, root growth occurred outside of the photosynthetically active period of tundra plants. Moreover, patterns observed in arctic and boreal ecosystems diverged from those of temperate systems, and models including root parameters may thus need specific parameterization for northern ecosystems. In addition, this thesis showed that plant communities differ in root properties, and that changes in plant community compositions can thus induce changes in root dynamics and functioning. This underlines the importance of a thorough understanding of root dynamics in different plant community types in order to understand and predict how changes in plant communities in response to climate change will translate into root dynamics. Overall, this thesis describes root dynamics in response to a variety of factors, because a deeper knowledge about root dynamics will enable a better understanding of ecosystem processes, as well as improve model prediction of how northern ecosystems will respond to climate change.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå Universitet, 2016. 24 p.
Arctic, belowground, boreal, climate change, fine roots, heath, meadow, minirhizotron, permafrost, phenology, plant community, root biomass, root growth, root litter, root production, subarctic, tundra
National Category
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-124757 (URN)978-91-7601-533-9 (ISBN)
Public defence
2016-09-16, Björken, Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet, Umeå, 09:00 (English)
Available from: 2016-08-26 Created: 2016-08-23 Last updated: 2016-09-23Bibliographically approved

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