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Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration ([CO2]) has the potential to stimulate ecosystem productivity and sink strength, reducing the effects of carbon (C) emissions on climate. In terrestrial ecosystems, increasing [CO2] can reduce soil nitrogen (N) availability to plants, preventing the stimulation of ecosystem C assimilation; a process known as progressive N limitation. Using ion exchange membranes to assess the availability of dissolved organic N, ammonium and nitrate, we found that CO2 enrichment in an Australian, temperate, perennial grassland did not increase plant productivity, but did reduce soil N availability, mostly by reducing nitrate availability. Importantly, the addition of 2 °C warming...
Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is a recognized, invasive annual weed of the western United States that reduces fire return times from decades to less than 5 years. To determine the interaction between rising carbon dioxide concentration ([CO2]) and fuel load, we characterized potential changes in biomass accumulation, C : N ratio and digestibility of three cheatgrass populations from different elevations to recent and near-term projections in atmospheric [CO2]. The experimental CO2 values (270, 320, 370, 420 μmol mol−1) corresponded roughly to the CO2 concentrations that existed at the beginning of the 19th century, that during the 1960s, the current [CO2], and the near-term [CO2] projection for 2020, respectively....
One of the major concerns about global warming is the potential for an increase in decomposition and soil respiration rates, increasing CO2 emissions and creating a positive feedback between global warming and soil respiration. This is particularly important in ecosystems with large belowground biomass, such as grasslands where over 90% of the carbon is allocated belowground. A better understanding of the relative influence of climate and litter quality on litter decomposition is needed to predict these changes accurately in grasslands. The Long-Term Intersite Decomposition Experiment Team (LIDET) dataset was used to evaluate the influence of climatic variables (temperature, precipitation, actual evapotranspiration,...
Increases in net primary production (NPP) may not necessarily result in increased C sequestration since an increase in uptake can be negated by concurrent increases in ecosystem C losses via respiratory processes. Continuous measurements of net ecosystem C exchange between the atmosphere and two experimental cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.) ecosystems in large dynamic flux chambers (EcoCELLs) showed net ecosystem C losses to the atmosphere in excess of 300 g C m?2 over two growing cycles. Even a doubling of net ecosystem production (NEP) after N fertilization in the second growing season did not compensate for soil C losses incurred during the fallow period. Fertilization not only increased C uptake in biomass but...
Interactions between climate change and non-native invasive species may combine to increase invasion risk to native ecosystems. Changing climate creates risk as new terrain becomes climatically suitable for invasion. However, climate change may also create opportunities for ecosystem restoration on invaded lands that become climatically unsuitable for invasive species. Here, I develop a bioclimatic envelope model for cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), a non-native invasive grass in the western US, based on its invaded distribution. The bioclimatic envelope model is based on the Mahalanobis distance using the climate variables that best constrain the species distribution. Of the precipitation and temperature variables...
When agricultural land is no longer used for cultivation and allowed to revert to natural vegetation or replanted to perennial vegetation, soil organic carbon can accumulate. This accumulation process essentially reverses some of the effects responsible for soil organic carbon losses from when the land was converted from perennial vegetation. We discuss the essential elements of what is known about soil organic matter dynamics that may result in enhanced soil carbon sequestration with changes in land-use and soil management. We review literature that reports changes in soil organic carbon after changes in land-use that favour carbon accumulation. This data summary provides a guide to approximate rates of SOC sequestration...
With representation of the global carbon cycle becoming increasingly complex in climate models, it is important to develop ways to quantitatively evaluate model performance against in situ and remote sensing observations. Here we present a systematic framework, the Carbon-LAnd Model Intercomparison Project (C-LAMP), for assessing terrestrial biogeochemistry models coupled to climate models using observations that span a wide range of temporal and spatial scales. As an example of the value of such comparisons, we used this framework to evaluate two biogeochemistry models that are integrated within the Community Climate System Model (CCSM) ? Carnegie-Ames-Stanford Approach? (CASA?) and carbon?nitrogen (CN). Both models...
Climate change is causing measurable changes in rainfall patterns, and will likely cause increases in extreme rainfall events, with uncertain implications for key processes in ecosystem function and carbon cycling. We examined how variation in rainfall total quantity (Q), the interval between rainfall events (I), and individual event size (SE) affected soil water content (SWC) and three aspects of ecosystem function: leaf photosynthetic carbon gain (inline image), aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP), and soil respiration (inline image). We utilized rainout shelter-covered mesocosms (2.6 m3) containing assemblages of tallgrass prairie grasses and forbs. These were hand watered with 16 I�Q treatment combinations,...
We present evidence that land use practices in the plains of Colorado influence regional climate and vegetation in adjacent natural areas in the Rocky Mountains in predictable ways. Mesoscale climate model simulations using the Colorado State University Regional Atmospheric Modelling System (RAMS) projected that modifications to natural vegetation in the plains, primarily due to agriculture and urbanization, could produce lower summer temperatures in the mountains. We corroborate the RAMS simulations with three independent sets of data: (i) climate records from 16 weather stations, which showed significant trends of decreasing July temperatures in recent decades; (ii) the distribution of seedlings of five dominant...
Southwestern North America faces an imminent transition to a warmer, more arid climate, and it is critical to understand how these changes will affect the carbon balance of southwest ecosystems. In order to test our hypothesis that differential responses of production and respiration to temperature and moisture shape the carbon balance across a range of spatio-temporal scales, we quantified net ecosystem exchange (NEE) of CO2 and carbon storage across the New Mexico Elevational Gradient, which consists of six eddy-covariance sites representing biomes ranging from desert to subalpine conifer forest. Within sites, hotter and drier conditions were associated with an increasing advantage of respiration relative to production...
Impacts of long-term climate shifts on the dynamics of intact communities within species ranges are not well understood. Here, we show that warming and drying of the Southwestern United States over the last 25 years has corresponded to a shift in the species composition of Sonoran Desert winter annuals, paradoxically favoring species that germinate and grow best in cold temperatures. Winter rains have been arriving later in the season, during December rather than October, leading to the unexpected result that plants are germinating under colder temperatures, shifting community composition to favor slow growing, water-use efficient, cold-adapted species. Our results demonstrate how detailed ecophysiological knowledge...
Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) are an integral part of the soil system in arid regions worldwide, stabilizing soil surfaces, aiding vascular plant establishment, and are significant sources of ecosystem nitrogen and carbon. Hydration and temperature primarily control ecosystem CO2 flux in these systems. Using constructed mesocosms for incubations under controlled laboratory conditions, we examined the effect of temperature (5?35 �C) and water content (WC, 20?100%) on CO2 exchange in light (cyanobacterially dominated) and dark (cyanobacteria/lichen and moss dominated) biocrusts of the cool Colorado Plateau Desert in Utah and the hot Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico. In light crusts from both Utah and New Mexico,...
Shrub encroachment into grass-dominated biomes is occurring globally due to a variety of anthropogenic activities, but the consequences for carbon (C) inputs, storage and cycling remain unclear. We studied eight North American graminoid-dominated ecosystems invaded by shrubs, from arctic tundra to Atlantic coastal dunes, to quantify patterns and controls of C inputs via aboveground net primary production (ANPP). Across a fourfold range in mean annual precipitation (MAP), a key regulator of ecosystem C input at the continental scale, shrub invasion decreased ANPP in xeric sites, but dramatically increased ANPP (>1000gm-2) at high MAP, where shrub patches maintained extraordinarily high leaf area. Concurrently, the...
Forest carbon stocks and fluxes vary with forest age, and relationships with forest age are often used to estimate fluxes for regional or national carbon inventories. Two methods are commonly used to estimate forest age: observed tree age or time since a known disturbance. To clarify the relationships between tree age, time since disturbance and forest carbon storage and cycling, we examined stands of known disturbance history in three landscapes of the southern Rocky Mountains. Our objectives were to assess the similarity between carbon stocks and fluxes for these three landscapes that differed in climate and disturbance history, characterize the relationship between observed tree age and time since disturbance...
The Chihuahuan desert of New Mexico, USA, has changed in historical times from semiarid grassland to desert shrublands dominated by Larrea tridentata and Prosopis glandulosa. Similar displacement of perennial grasslands by shrubs typifies desertification in many regions. Such structural vegetation change could alter average values of net primary productivity, as well as spatial and temporal patterns of production. We investigated patterns of aboveground plant biomass and net primary production in five ecosystem types of the Jornada Basin Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site. Comparisons of shrub-dominated desertified systems and remnant grass-dominated systems allowed us to test the prediction that shrublands...
Recent trends of increasing woody vegetation in arid and semiarid ecosystems may contribute substantially to the North American C sink. There is considerable uncertainty, however, in the extent to which woody encroachment alters dryland soil organic carbon (SOC) and total nitrogen (TN) pools. To date, studies assessing SOC and TN response to woody plant proliferation have not explicitly assessed the variability caused by shrub age or size and subcanopy spatial gradients. These factors were quantified via spatially intensive soil sampling around Prosopis velutina shrubs in a semidesert grassland, using shrub size as a proxy for age. We found that bulk density increased with distance from the bole (P < 0.005) and...
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Methane (CH4) emissions from the northern high-latitude region represent potentially significant biogeochemical feedbacks to the climate system. We compiled a database of growing-season CH4 emissions from terrestrial ecosystems located across permafrost zones, including 303 sites described in 65 studies. Data on environmental and physical variables, including permafrost conditions, were used to assess controls on CH4 emissions. Water table position, soil temperature, and vegetation composition strongly influenced emissions and had interacting effects. Sites with a dense sedge cover had higher emissions than other sites at comparable water table positions, and this was an effect that was more pronounced at low soil...
The magnitude of changes in carboxylation capacity in dominant plant species under long-term elevated CO2 exposure (elevated pCa) directly impacts ecosystem CO2 assimilation from the atmosphere. We analyzed field CO2 response curves of 16 C3 species of different plant growth forms in favorable growth conditions in four free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE) experiments in a pine and deciduous forest, a grassland and a desert. Among species and across herb, tree and shrub growth forms there were significant enhancements in CO2 assimilation (A) by +40±5% in elevated pCa (49.5–57.1 Pa), although there were also significant reductions in photosynthetic capacity in elevated pCa in some species. Photosynthesis at a common...
Climate models predict, and empirical evidence confirms, that more extreme precipitation regimes are occurring in tandem with warmer atmospheric temperatures. These more extreme rainfall patterns are characterized by increased event size separated by longer within season drought periods and represent novel climatic conditions whose consequences for different ecosystem types are largely unknown. Here, we present results from an experiment in which more extreme rainfall patterns were imposed in three native grassland sites in the Central Plains Region of North America, USA. Along this 600 km precipitation–productivity gradient, there was strong sensitivity of temperate grasslands to more extreme growing season rainfall...
Rather than simply enhancing invasion risk, climate change may also reduce invasive plant competitiveness if conditions become climatically unsuitable. Using bioclimatic envelope modeling, we show that climate change could result in both range expansion and contraction for five widespread and dominant invasive plants in the western United States. Yellow starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis) and tamarisk (Tamarix spp.) are likely to expand with climate change. Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) and spotted knapweed (Centaurea biebersteinii) are likely to shift in range, leading to both expansion and contraction. Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) is likely to contract. The retreat of once-intractable invasive species could...