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Absence of soil frost affects plant-soil interactions in temperate grasslands

Schuerings, Jan, Beierkuhnlein, Carl, Grant, Kerstin, Jentsch, Anke, Malyshev, Andrey, Peñuelas, Josep, Sardans, Jordi, Kreyling, Juergen
Plant and soil 2013 v.371 no.1-2 pp. 559-572
aboveground biomass, biogeochemical cycles, biomass production, carbon, field experimentation, freeze-thaw cycles, frost, global warming, grasslands, growing season, nitrogen, nitrogen content, nutrient content, roots, soil profiles, soil respiration, soil-plant interactions, temperate zones, winter
Background and aims: Intermittently frozen ground in winter is expected to disappear over large areas in the temperate zone due to ongoing climate warming. The lack of soil frost influences plant soil interactions and needs to be studied in more detail. Methods: Winter soil frost was avoided by belowground heating wires in a field experiment over two subsequent winters in a temperate grassland. Soil respiration, soil nitrogen availability and plant performance (aboveground biomass, root length at two depth levels, greenness, nutrient content) were compared between "no-frost" and reference plots which underwent repeated freeze-thaw cycles in both winters. Results: Soil respiration increased in the "no-frost" treatment during the warming phase (+291 %). N-availability in the upper 10 cm of the soil profile was not affected, possibly due to increased plant N accumulation during winter (+163 %), increased plant N concentration (+18 %) and increased biomass production (+31.5 %) in the growing season. Translocation of roots into deeper soil layers without changes in total root length in response to the "no-frost" treatment, however, may be a sign of nutrient leaching. Conclusions: The cumulative effect on carbon cycling due to warmer soils therefore depends on the balance between increased winter carbon loss due to higher soil biotic activity and enhanced plant productivity with higher nutrient accumulation in the growing season. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.