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Decomposition rate and stabilization across six tundra vegetation types exposed to> 20 years of warming

Sarneel, J. M., M. K. Sundqvist, U. Molau, M. P Björkman and J. M. Alatalo . 2020.

Abstract

Aims Litter decomposition is an important driver of soil carbon and nutrient cycling in nutrient-limited Arctic ecosystems. However, climate change is expected to induce changes that directly or indirectly affect decomposition. We examined the direct effects of long-term warming relative to differences in soil abiotic properties associated with vegetation type on litter decomposition across six subarctic vegetation types. Methods In six vegetation types, rooibos and green tea bags were buried for 70-75 days at 8 cm depth inside warmed (by open-top chambers) and control plots that had been in place for 20-25 years. Standardized initial decomposition rate and stabilization of the labile material fraction of tea (into less decomposable material) were calculated from tea mass losses. Soil moisture and temperature were measured bi-weekly during summer and plant-available nutrients were measured with resin probes. Results Initial decomposition rate was decreased by the warming treatment. Stabilization was less affected by warming and determined by vegetation type and soil moisture. Soil metal concentrations impeded both initial decomposition rate and stabilization. Conclusions While a warmer Arctic climate will likely have direct effects on initial litter decomposition rates in tundra, stabilization of organic matter was more affected by vegetation type and soil parameters and less prone to be affected by direct effects of warming.

Key Words

Open-top chamber Global warming Litter quality Tea Bag Index for decomposition Vegetation composition Soil chemistry Arctic