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Treeline advances and associated shifts in the ground vegetation alter fine root dynamics and mycelia production in the South and Polar Urals

  • Global change ecology – original research
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Abstract

Climate warming is shifting the elevational boundary between forests and tundra upwards, but the related belowground responses are poorly understood. In the pristine South and Polar Urals with shifts of the treeline ecotone documented by historical photographs, we investigated fine root dynamics and production of extramatrical mycorrhizal mycelia (EMM) along four elevational transects reaching from the closed forest to the treeless tundra. In addition, we analysed elevational differences in climate and vegetation structure, and excavated trees to estimate related changes in the partitioning between below- and aboveground biomass. Fine root biomass of trees (<2 mm) increased by 13–79% with elevation, paralleled by a 35–72% increase in ground vegetation fine roots from the closed forest to the tundra. During the first year of decomposition, mass loss of fine root litter from different vegetation types was greater at lower elevations in the forest–tundra ecotone. The ratio between fine roots of trees and stem biomass largely increased with elevation in both regions, but these increases were not accompanied by a distinct production of EMM. Production of EMM, however, increased with the presence of ectomycorrhizal trees at the transition from the tundra to the forest. Our results imply that the recorded upward expansion of forest into former tundra in the Ural Mountains by 4–8 m per decade is decreasing the partitioning of plant biomass to fine roots. They further suggest that climate-driven forest advances will alter EMM production rates with potential feedbacks on soil carbon and nutrient cycling in these ecosystems.

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Acknowledgements

This work was performed within the framework of the joint projects conceived by the Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Science (IPAE) and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape Research (WSL). The project was supported by the following grants: ERA.Net RUS STProject-207, COST Action ES1203 SENFOR (SBFI Nr. C14.0037), RFBR-15-29-02449.

Author contribution statement

EFS and FH designed the analysis; EFS analysed the data; EFS and FH wrote the paper; PAM, FH, and SGS conceived the experimental design in the field; ID, PAM, NIA, NMD, VSM, SGS, MRT, MW, and FH conducted fieldwork and provided data; EFS and FHS analysed the fine root biomass; ID and HG analysed the extramatrical mycelia production; all co-authors substantially revised the paper.

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Correspondence to Emily F. Solly.

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Communicated by Russell K. Monson.

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Solly, E.F., Djukic, I., Moiseev, P.A. et al. Treeline advances and associated shifts in the ground vegetation alter fine root dynamics and mycelia production in the South and Polar Urals. Oecologia 183, 571–586 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-016-3785-0

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