EFFECTS OF CLIMATE AND ECOSYSTEM DISTURBANCES ON BIOGEOCHEMICAL CYCLING IN A SEMI-NATURAL TERRESTRIAL ECOSYSTEM

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Abstract

The effects of increased temperature and potential ecosystem disturbances on biogeochemical cycling were investigated by manipulation of temperature in a mixed Calluna/grass heathland in Denmark. A reflective curtain covered the vegetation during the night to reduce the heat loss of IR radiation from the ecosystem to the atmosphere. This ‘night time warming’ was done for 3 years and warmed the air and soil by 1.1 °C. Warming was combined with ecosystem disturbances, including infestation by Calluna heather beetles (Lochmaea suturalis Thompson) causing complete defoliation of Calluna leaves during the summer 2000, and subsequent harvesting of all aboveground biomass during the autumn. Small increases in mineralisation rates were induced by warming and resulted in increased leaching of nitrogen from the organic soil layer. The increased nitrogen leaching from the organic soil layer was re-immobilised in the mineral soil layer as warming stimulated plant growth and thereby increased nitrogen immobilisation. Contradictory to the generally moderate effects of warming, the heather beetle infestation had very strong effects on mineralisation rates and the plant community. The grasses completely out-competed the Calluna plants which had not re-established two years after the infestation, probably due to combined effects of increased nutrient availability and the defoliation of Calluna. On the short term, ecosystem disturbances may have very strong effects on internal ecosystem processes and plant community structure compared to the more long-term effects of climate change.

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