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Absence of soil frost affects plant-soil interactions in temperate grasslands

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Abstract

Background and aims

Intermittently frozen ground in winter is expected to disappear over large areas in the temperate zone due to ongoing climate warming. The lack of soil frost influences plant soil interactions and needs to be studied in more detail.

Methods

Winter soil frost was avoided by belowground heating wires in a field experiment over two subsequent winters in a temperate grassland. Soil respiration, soil nitrogen availability and plant performance (aboveground biomass, root length at two depth levels, greenness, nutrient content) were compared between “no-frost” and reference plots which underwent repeated freeze-thaw cycles in both winters.

Results

Soil respiration increased in the “no-frost” treatment during the warming phase (+291 %). N-availability in the upper 10 cm of the soil profile was not affected, possibly due to increased plant N accumulation during winter (+163 %), increased plant N concentration (+18 %) and increased biomass production (+31.5 %) in the growing season. Translocation of roots into deeper soil layers without changes in total root length in response to the “no-frost” treatment, however, may be a sign of nutrient leaching.

Conclusions

The cumulative effect on carbon cycling due to warmer soils therefore depends on the balance between increased winter carbon loss due to higher soil biotic activity and enhanced plant productivity with higher nutrient accumulation in the growing season.

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Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge the help of technicians, students and field workers in the experiment. In particular, we thank Reinhold Stahlmann for developing the protocol for the greenness analyses. We also would like to thank our colleagues for helpful discussions. This study was funded by the Bavarian State Ministry of the Environment and Public Health (ZKL01Abt7 18456). The PhD position of the main author was financed by the German Science Foundation (DFG). J. P. and J. S. were supported by Spanish Government grants CGL2010-17172/BOS and Consolider-Ingenio Montes CSD2008-00040, and by Catalan Government grant SGR 2009–458.

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Correspondence to Jan Schuerings.

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Responsible editor: Nico Eisenhauer.

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Schuerings, J., Beierkuhnlein, C., Grant, K. et al. Absence of soil frost affects plant-soil interactions in temperate grasslands. Plant Soil 371, 559–572 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-013-1724-y

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