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Biogeochemical Cycling and Microbial Communities in Native Grasslands: Responses to Climate Change and Defoliation

Attaeian, B. 2010. Dissertation in Soil Science. Department of Renewable Resources. University of Alberta

Abstract

Ongoing climate change has emerged as a major scientific challenge in the current century. Grassland ecosystems are considered net carbon (C) sinks to mitigate climate change. However, they are in turn, influenced by climate change and management practices, providing feedback to climate change via soil microbial community and biogeochemical fluxes. In this thesis, I examined the impact of warming, altered precipitation, and defoliation on soil microbial composition and function, C and N dynamics, and fluxes in soil respiration (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4), together with other belowground ecosystem functions, within two ecosites in a northern native temperate grassland in central Alberta, Canada, over a two-year period. Fungi-to-bacteria ratio was not affected by climatic parameters or defoliation, indicating a high degree of resistance in the below ground community to the treatments imposed. However, C substrate utilization was influenced by warming and defoliation, as was soil microbial biomass. In contrast, soil respiration (or C loss) was not. Soil respiration acclimatized rather quickly to warming, and N2O and CH4 effluxes showed minor responses to warming at both ecosites, regardless of defoliation. These results suggest warming is unlikely to lead to positive climate change feedback due to soil-based responses, regardless of ongoing land use. However, altered precipitation (?50%) demonstrated greater impacts on C and N fluxes relative to warming and defoliation. Increased precipitation stimulated soil C loss to the atmosphere, potentially generating positive feedback for climatic warming in this northern temperate grassland.