Climate-induced changes in snow cover are likely to affect cold arctic and alpine ecosystems functioning and major processes such as wintertime plant litter decomposition. However, it remains poorly studied in subalpine systems where the snowpack may be irregular. In this paper we explored the dynamic of the winter plant litter decomposition process, its magnitude and its relationship with the snowpack properties.
In subalpine grasslands of the Central French Alps, we performed a litter bag experiment monitoring over a whole winter the litter decomposition from the exploitative Dactylis glomerata and the conservative Festuca paniculata, under two contiguous experimental sites with snowpacks differing in depth and physical properties.
Litter decomposition rates were stable during winter and 3-fold higher under deeper and permanent snowpack with higher thermal resistance. Litter quality appeared only significant under thinner snowpack with higher decomposition rates for the exploitative species. A snowpack with higher thermal resistance created an insulating layer promoting the decomposition process.
These results suggest that the temporal (permanence vs. intermittency) and physical (depth and thermal resistance) characteristics of the snowpack should be considered when studying the response of winter ecosystems functioning to global changes.
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We were grateful to the Station Alpine Joseph Fourier (SAJF) for providing field logistics and facilities during the field campaign. We thank OSUG, CNRS-LECA and the “Zone-Atelier-Alpes” of CNRS for providing fundings to the exploratory project “NEVE”. We thank Charlotte Colomb for help in the field, the lab and the first analyses of the data. We thank Gérald Giraud and Jean-Marie Willemet (CNRM-GAME/CEN) for help with handling SAFRAN and ancillary meteorological stations. We thank Renato Gerdol and an anonymous reviewer for their valuable comments on the early version of the manuscript.
Responsible Editor: Alfonso Escudero.
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Saccone, P., Morin, S., Baptist, F. et al. The effects of snowpack properties and plant strategies on litter decomposition during winter in subalpine meadows. Plant Soil 363, 215–229 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-012-1307-3