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Carbon budgets for soil and plants respond to long-term warming in an Alaskan boreal forest


The potential consequences of global warming for ecosystem carbon stocks are a major concern, particularly in high-latitude regions where soil carbon pools are especially large. Research on soil and plant carbon responses to warming are often based on short-term (' 10 year) warming experiments. Furthermore, carbon budgets from boreal forests, which contain at least 10–20% of the global soil carbon pool, have shown mixed responses to warming. In this study, we measured carbon and nitrogen budgets (i.e., soil and understory vegetation carbon and nitrogen stocks) from a 13-year greenhouse warming experiment in an Alaskan boreal forest. Although there were no differences in total aboveground + belowground pools, the carbon in the moss biomass and in the soil organic layer significantly decreased with the warming treatment (− 88.3% and − 19.1%, respectively). Declines in moss biomass carbon may be a consequence of warming-associated drying, while shifts in the soil microbial community could be responsible for the decrease in carbon in the soil organic layer. Moreover, in response to warming, aboveground plant biomass carbon tended to increase while root biomass carbon tended to decrease, so carbon allocation may shift aboveground with warming. Overall these results suggest that permafrost-free boreal forests are susceptible to soil carbon loss with warming.

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