, Volume 105, Issue 1, pp 1-12

Shoot biomass, δ13C, nitrogen and chlorophyll responses of two arctic dwarf shrubs to in situ shading, nutrient application and warming simulating climatic change

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Abstract

As climatic change might induce ecophysiological changes in plants which affect their long-term performance, we investigated responses in above-ground biomass, δ13C, nitrogen and chlorophyll of two evergreen arctic dwarf shrubs, Cassiope tetragona and Empetrum hermaphroditum, to 5 (biomass, N) or 6 years of shading, nutrient application and air/soil warming at a dwarf shrub dominated tree-line heath (450 m a.s.l) and a high altitude fellfield (1100 m a.s.l.) in Swedish Lapland. Warming enhanced the green biomass (equivalent to the last 3–4 years of leaf production) and the ratio of green to brown biomass of C. tetragona at the fellfield, and diluted the shoot N concentration. Fertilizer application led to higher shoot N concentration and larger green-to-brown biomass ratio at both sites, and fertilizer application and warming generally had an additive effect on the green biomass. We conclude that both warming and increased soil nutrient availability stimulated the growth of C. tetragona at the fellfield whereas at the heath there was a clear increase in production only if enhanced temperature was combined with nutrient application. Across treatments C. tetragona at the fellfield had 0.6‰ higher δ13C and 1.4 mg g-1 more leaf N, and the soil organic matter δ13C was 1.0‰ higher at the fellfield than at the heath. However, an increase in shoot N concentration with altitude does not necessarily lead to higher δ13C as no differences in δ13C were observed when leaf N of the two dwarf shrubs was increased by fertilizer application c. tetragona in non-warmed plots had higher δ13C values than those from warmed plots at the same altitude, which provides the first in situ experimental validation of the theory that temperature partly is responsible for altitudinal trends in plant carbon isotope discrimination. Increased biomass and chlorophyll concentration of C. tetragona in warmed plots points to increased assimilation, at least at the fellfield. As the δ13C-based and, therefore, time-integrated estimate of the ratio of CO2 concentration in the leaf intercellular spaces to that in the atmosphere (C i/C a) also increased, warming probably enhanced the stomatal conductance relatively more than the C assimilation, which may be harmful if climatic change leads to reduced soil moisture content and increased plant competition for water. At both sites C. tetragona and E. hermaphroditum responded to shade by increasing the concentration of shoot N and photosynthetic pigments whereas biomass production (and therefore also net photosynthesis) did not decline. Shade was accompanied by a 0.6–1.3‰ (E. hermaphroditum) or 1.2–2.2‰ (C. tetragona) decrease in δ13C. This could be due to enhanced stomatal conductance with shading, and perhaps to shade reducing the ericoid mycorrhizal uptake of soil organic C, a factor which has been overlooked as an influence on plant δ13C.