Global negative vegetation feedback to climate warming responses of leaf litter decomposition rates in cold biomes

Publisher's full text
Johannes H C Cornelissen
Peter M Van Bodegom
Rien Aerts
Terry V Callaghan
Richard S.P. Van Logtestijn
Juha Alatalo
Stuart F. Chapin
Renato G Gerdol
Jon Gudmundsson
Dylan Gwynn-Jones
Anne E Hartley
David S Hik
Annika Hofgaard
Ingibjörg S. Jónsdóttir
Staffan Karlsson
Julia A Klein
Jim Laundre
Borgthor Magnusson
Anders Michelsen
Ulf Molau
Vladimir G. Onipchenko
Helen M. Quested
Sylvi M Sandvik
Inger K. Schmidt
Gus R. Shaver
Bjørn S Solheim
Nadejda A Soudzilovskaia
Anna Stenström
Anne Tolvanen
Ørjan T Totland
Naoya W Wada
Jeffrey M Welker
Xinquan Zhao
Lisa Brancaleoni
Laura Brancaleoni
Miranda A.H De Beus
Elisabeth J. Cooper
Linda Dalen
John Harte
Sarah E Hobbie
Gerlof Hoefsloot
Annika K Jägerbrand
Sven Jonasson
John A Lee
Karin Lindblad
Jerry M Melillo
Christopher Neill
Malcolm C Press
Jelte Rozema
Matthias Zielke

Whether climate change will turn cold biomes from large long-term carbon sinks into sources is hotly debated because of the great potential for ecosystem-mediated feedbacks to global climate. Critical are the direction, magnitude and generality of climate responses of plant litter decomposition. Here, we present the first quantitative analysis of the major climate-change-related drivers of litter decomposition rates in cold northern biomes worldwide.

Leaf litters collected from the predominant species in 33 global change manipulation experiments in circum-arctic-alpine ecosystems were incubated simultaneously in two contrasting arctic life zones. We demonstrate that longer-term, large-scale changes to leaf litter decomposition will be driven primarily by both direct warming effects and concomitant shifts in plant growth form composition, with a much smaller role for changes in litter quality within species. Specifically, the ongoing warming-induced expansion of shrubs with recalcitrant leaf litter across cold biomes would constitute a negative feedback to global warming. Depending on the strength of other (previously reported) positive feedbacks of shrub expansion on soil carbon turnover, this may partly counteract direct warming enhancement of litter decomposition.

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