Ericaceous dwarf shrubs contribute a significant but drought-sensitive fraction of soil respiration in a boreal pine forestMielke, Louis A.; Ekblad, Alf; Finlay, Roger D.; Fransson, Petra; Lindahl, Bjorn D.; Clemmensen, Karina E.;
Boreal forests often have a dense understorey of ericaceous dwarf shrubs with ecological adaptations that contrast those of the canopy-forming trees. It is therefore important to quantify contributions by understorey shrubs to ecosystem processes and disentangle shrub- and tree-driven responses to climatic factors. We quantified soil respiration driven by the pine canopy and the ericaceous shrub understorey over 3 years, using a factorial pine root exclusion and shrub removal experiment in a mature Pinus sylvestris forest. Soil temperature and moisture-related responses of respiration attributed to autotrophs (shrubs, pine roots) and heterotrophs were compared. Additionally, we assessed effects of interactions between these functional groups on soil nitrogen availability and respiration. Understorey shrubs accounted for 22% +/- 10% of total autotrophic respiration, reflecting the ericaceous proportion of fine root production in the ecosystem. Heterotrophic respiration constituted about half of total soil respiration. Shrub-driven respiration was more susceptible to drought than heterotrophic- and pine-driven respiration. While the respiration attributed to canopy and understorey remained additive, indicating no competitive release, the plant guilds competed for soil N. Synthesis. Ericaceous understorey shrubs accounted for a small, yet significant, share of total growing season soil respiration. Overlooking understorey respiration may lead to erroneous partitioning and modelling of soil respiration mediated by functional guilds with contrasting responses to soil temperature and moisture. A larger contribution by heterotrophs and pine root-associated organisms to soil respiration under drought conditions could have important implications for soil organic matter accumulation and decomposition as the climate changes in boreal forests.
autotrophic respiration; ericaceous dwarf shrubs; Gadgil effect; mycorrhiza; nitrogen availability; Pinus sylvestris; root trenching; understorey
Published inJournal of Ecology 2022, volume: 110, number: 8, pages: 1928-1941
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