Indexed on: 23 Apr '08Published on: 23 Apr '08Published in: Plant and soil
The aim of this study was to assess initial effects of warming on the CO2 balance of a lichen-rich dwarf shrub tundra, a widespread but little studied ecosystem type in the Arctic. We analyzed whole ecosystem carbon exchange rates as well as nutrient dynamics, microbial and plant community composition and biomass after 2 years of experimental temperature increase. Plant biomass increased significantly with warming, mainly due to the strong response of lichens, the dominant plant group within this ecosystem. Experimental warming also increased soil nitrogen pools and nitrogen turnover rates. Major changes in soil microbial and plant composition, however, were not detected. Although experimental warming increased gross ecosystem productivity, the higher plant biomass did not compensate for the much greater increase in C losses. Ecosystem respiration and net ecosystem CO2 losses were significantly higher in warmed plots compared to control ones. We suggest that this was due to increased soil respiration, since soil carbon pools were lower in warmed soils, at least in the upper horizons. Our study thus supports the general hypothesis that tundra ecosystems turn from a carbon sink to a carbon source when temperatures increase in the short-term. Since lichens, which produce low quality litter, increased their biomass significantly with warming in this specific ecosystem type, CO2 losses may slow down in the long-term.