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Warming and drying suppress microbial activity and carbon cycling in boreal forest soils

  • Author(s): ALLISON, STEVEND;
  • et al.

Climate warming is expected to have particularly strong effects on tundra and boreal ecosystems, yet relatively few studies have examined soil responses to temperature change in these systems. We used closed-top greenhouses to examine the response of soil respiration, nutrient availability, microbial abundance, and active fungal communities to soil warming in an Alaskan boreal forest dominated by mature black spruce. This treatment raised soil temperature by 0.5 °C and also resulted in a 22% decline in soil water content. We hypothesized that microbial abundance and activity would increase with the greenhouse treatment. Instead, we found that bacterial and fungal abundance declined by over 50%, and there was a trend toward lower activity of the chitin-degrading enzyme N-acetyl-glucosaminidase. Soil respiration also declined by up to 50%, but only late in the growing season. These changes were accompanied by significant shifts in the community structure of active fungi, with decreased relative abundance of a dominant Thelephoroid fungus and increased relative abundance of Ascomycetes and Zygomycetes in response to warming. In line with our hypothesis, we found that warming marginally increased soil ammonium and nitrate availability as well as the overall diversity of active fungi. Our results indicate that rising temperatures in northern-latitude ecosystems may not always cause a positive feedback to the soil carbon cycle, particularly in boreal forests with drier soils. Models of carbon cycle-climate feedbacks could increase their predictive power by incorporating heterogeneity in soil properties and microbial communities across the boreal zone.

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