Climate and species affect fine root production with long-term fertilization in acidic tussock tundra near Toolik Lake, Alaska

  • Sullivan P
  • Sommerkorn M
  • Rueth H
 et al. 
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Abstract

Long-term fertilization of acidic tussock tundra has led to changes in plant species composition, increases in aboveground production and biomass and substantial losses of soil organic carbon (SOC). Root litter is an important input to SOC pools, although little is known about fine root demography in tussock tundra. In this study, we examined the response of fine root production and live standing fine root biomass to short- and long-term fertilization, as changes in fine root demography may contribute to observed declines in SOC. Live standing fine root biomass increased with long-term fertilization, while fine root production declined, reflecting replacement of the annual fine root system of Eriophorum vaginatum, with the long-lived fine roots of Betula nana. Fine root production increased in fertilized plots during an unusually warm growing season, but remained unchanged in control plots, consistent with observations that B. nana shows a positive response to climate warming. Calculations based on a few simple assumptions suggest changes in fine root demography with long-term fertilization and species replacement could account for between 20 and 39% of the observed declines in SOC stocks.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Betula nana
  • Eriophorum vaginatum
  • Fertilization
  • Fine roots
  • Ingrowth cores
  • Minirhizotrons
  • Soil organic carbon
  • Tussock tundra

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