Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)

Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Precipitation regime controls bryosphere carbon cycling similarly across contrasting ecosystems

Grau-Andres, Roger; Wardle, David A.; Nilsson, Marie-Charlotte; Kardol, Paul


In arctic and boreal ecosystems, ground bryophytes play an important role in regulating carbon (C) exchange between vast belowground C stores and the atmosphere. Climate is changing particularly fast in these high-latitude regions, but it is unclear how altered precipitation regimes will affect C dynamics in the bryosphere (i.e. the ground moss layer including senesced moss, litter and associated biota) and the closely associated upper humus layer, and how these effects will vary across contrasting environmental conditions. Here, we set up a greenhouse experiment in which mesocosms were assembled containing samples of the bryosphere, dominated by the feather moss Hylocomium splendens, and the upper humus layer, that were collected from across a boreal forest chronosequence in northern Sweden which varies strongly in nutrient availability, productivity and soil biota. We tested the effect of variation in precipitation volume and frequency on CO2 exchange and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) export, and on moss growth. As expected, reduced precipitation volume and frequency lowered net CO2 efflux, DOC export and moss growth. However, by regulating moisture, the lower bryosphere and humus layers often mediated how precipitation volume and frequency interacted to drive C dynamics. For example, less frequent precipitation reduced moss growth only when precipitation volume was low. When volume was high, high moisture content of the humus layer helped avoid moss desiccation. Variation in precipitation regime affected C cycling consistently in samples collected across the chronosequence, despite large environmental variation along the sequence. This suggests that the bryosphere exerts a strong buffering effect on environmental variation at the forest floor, which leads to similar responses of C cycling to external perturbations across highly contrasting ecosystems. As such, our study indicates that projected increases in droughts and ground evapotranspiration in high-latitude regions resulting from climate change will consistently reduce C losses from moss-dominated ecosystems.


boreal forest; context-dependency; dissolved organic carbon; forest succession; moss; net ecosystem exchange

Published in

2021, Volume: 130, number: 4, pages: 512-524 Publisher: WILEY