Feedback between global carbon (C) cycles and climate change is one of the major uncertainties in projecting future global warming. Coupled carbon-climate models all demonstrated a positive feedback between terrestrial C cycle and climate warming. The positive feedback results from decreased net primary production (NPP) in most models and increased respiratory C release by all the models under climate warming. Those modeling results present interesting hypotheses of future states of ecosystems and climate, which are yet to be tested against experimental results. In this study, we examined ecosystem C balance and its major components in a warming and clipping experiment in a North America tallgrass prairie. Infrared heaters have been used to elevate soil temperature by approximately 2 degrees C continuously since November 1999. Clipping once a year was to mimic hay or biofuel feedstock harvest. On average of data over 6 years from 2000 to 2005, estimated NPP under warming increased by 14% without clipping (P < 0.05) and 26% with clipping (P < 0.05) in comparison with that under control. Warming did not result in instantaneous increases in soil respiration in 1999 and 2000 but significantly increased it by approximately 8% without clipping (P < 0.05) from 2001 to 2005. Soil respiration under warming increased by 15% with clipping (P < 0.05) from 2000 to 2005. Warming-stimulated plant biomass production, due to enhanced C-4 dominance, extended growing seasons, and increased nitrogen uptake and use efficiency, offset increased soil respiration, leading to no change in soil C storage at our site. However, biofuel feedstock harvest by biomass removal resulted in significant soil C loss in the clipping and control plots but was carbon negative in the clipping and warming plots largely because of positive interactions of warming and clipping in stimulating root growth. Our results demonstrate that plant production processes play a critical role in regulation of ecosystem carbon-cycle feedback to climate change in both the current ambient and future warmed world.
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