, Volume 122, Issue 2–3, pp 151–163 | Cite as

Sustained impact of drought on wet shrublands mediated by soil physical changes

  • María T. DomínguezEmail author
  • Alwyn Sowerby
  • Andrew R. Smith
  • David A. Robinson
  • Susie Van Baarsel
  • Rob T. E. Mills
  • Miles R. Marshall
  • Eva Koller
  • Inma Lebron
  • Jane Hall
  • Bridget A. Emmett
Biogeochemistry Letters


Projected climate warming may substantially increase carbon emissions from wet organic soils, contributing to a positive feedback between the terrestrial carbon cycle and climate change. Evidence suggests that in these soils the stimulation of soil respiration by warming can be sustained over long periods of time due to the large availability of C substrates. However, the long-term response of wet organic soils to drought remains uncertain. Organo-mineral soils might be particularly vulnerable, because of their limited soil moisture pool to buffer drought events. Using a whole-ecosystem climate-change experiment in North Wales (UK) we show that soil respiration in podzolic (organo-mineral) soils from wet shrublands is more vulnerable to recurrent drought than to warming, and that the drought impact does not attenuate at decadal time scales. Stimulation of soil respiration by drought was linked to major changes in soil structure that led to a 54 % reduction in water holding capacity compared to control. Bryophyte abundance was found to buffer soil moisture losses, moderating soil CO2 efflux under warming. As there was no evidence of change in plant productivity to offset the increased soil C emissions under drought, this response may result in a positive climate feedback. The results indicate the potentially critical role that changes in sub-dominant vegetation and in soil physical properties may have in determining climate change impacts on soil C dynamics.


Soil respiration Acclimation Water retention Warming Bryophyte Calluna vulgaris Soil structure 



We thank all the CEH staff members who have contributed to the experiment establishment and maintenance over the years, in particular David Williams. This research was funded by the EU projects CLIMOOR, VULCAN and INCREASE FP7-INFRASTRUCTURE-2008-1 (Grant Agreement no. 227628)—the INCREASE project. M.T.D was supported by two postdoctoral fellowships awarded by the Spanish National Science and Technology Foundation.

Supplementary material

10533_2014_59_MOESM1_ESM.docx (39 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 39 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • María T. Domínguez
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Alwyn Sowerby
    • 1
  • Andrew R. Smith
    • 1
    • 3
  • David A. Robinson
    • 1
  • Susie Van Baarsel
    • 1
  • Rob T. E. Mills
    • 1
    • 4
    • 5
  • Miles R. Marshall
    • 1
  • Eva Koller
    • 1
  • Inma Lebron
    • 1
  • Jane Hall
    • 1
  • Bridget A. Emmett
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Ecology and Hydrology BangorNatural Environment Research CouncilBangorUK
  2. 2.Instituto de Recursos Naturales y Agrobiología de Sevilla (IRNAS-CSIC)SevilleSpain
  3. 3.School of Environment, Natural Resources and GeographyBangor UniversityBangorUK
  4. 4.WSL Swiss Federal Research Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape ResearchLausanneSwitzerland
  5. 5.Laboratory of Ecological Systems (ECOS), School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering (ENAC)École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)LausanneSwitzerland

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