A meta-analysis of the response of soil respiration, net nitrogen mineralization, and aboveground plant growth to experimental ecosystem warming
Climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions is predicted to raise the mean global temperature by 1.0–3.5°C in the next 50–100 years. The direct and indirect effects of this potential increase in temperature on terrestrial ecosystems and ecosystem processes are likely to be complex and highly varied in time and space. The Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems core project of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme has recently launched a Network of Ecosystem Warming Studies, the goals of which are to integrate and foster research on ecosystem-level effects of rising temperature. In this paper, we use meta-analysis to synthesize data on the response of soil respiration, net N mineralization, and aboveground plant productivity to experimental ecosystem warming at 32 research sites representing four broadly defined biomes, including high (latitude or altitude) tundra, low tundra, grassland, and forest. Warming methods included electrical heat-resistance ground cables, greenhouses, vented and unvented field chambers, overhead infrared lamps, and passive night-time warming. Although results from individual sites showed considerable variation in response to warming, results from the meta-analysis showed that, across all sites and years, 2–9 years of experimental warming in the range 0.3–6.0°C significantly increased soil respiration rates by 20% (with a 95% confidence interval of 18–22%), net N mineralization rates by 46% (with a 95% confidence interval of 30–64%), and plant productivity by 19% (with a 95% confidence interval of 15–23%). The response of soil respiration to warming was generally larger in forested ecosystems compared to low tundra and grassland ecosystems, and the response of plant productivity was generally larger in low tundra ecosystems than in forest and grassland ecosystems. With the exception of aboveground plant productivity, which showed a greater positive response to warming in colder ecosystems, the magnitude of the response of these three processes to experimental warming was not generally significantly related to the geographic, climatic, or environmental variables evaluated in this analysis. This underscores the need to understand the relative importance of specific factors (such as temperature, moisture, site quality, vegetation type, successional status, land-use history, etc.) at different spatial and temporal scales, and suggests that we should be cautious in "scaling up" responses from the plot and site level to the landscape and biome level. Overall, ecosystem-warming experiments are shown to provide valuable insights on the response of terrestrial ecosystems to elevated temperature.