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Winter climate change in plant–soil systems: summary of recent findings and future perspectives


The winter climate is changing in many parts of the world, and it is predicted that winter climate change will modify the structure and function of plant–soil systems. An understanding of these changes and their consequences in terrestrial ecosystems requires knowledge of the linkage between above- and below-ground components as well as the species interactions found in plant–soil systems, which have important implications for biogeochemical cycles. However, winter climate-change studies have focused on only a part of the ecosystem or ecological process. We summarize here recent findings related to the effects of winter climate and its changes on soil nitrogen (N) dynamics, greenhouse gas (N2O) emissions from the soil, N use by individual plants, vegetation development, and interactions between vegetation and pollinators to generate an integrative understanding of the response of the plant–soil system to winter climate change. This review indicates that the net effects on plants, soil microbes, pollinators, and the associated biogeochemical cycles are balanced among several processes and are highly variable depending on the context, such as the target species/functional group, original winter condition of the habitat, and type of climate change. The consequences of winter climate change for species interactions among plants, associated animals, and biogeochemical cycles are largely unknown. For further research, a large-scale comparative study to measure ecosystem-level functions is important, especially in less-cold ecosystems.

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We deeply acknowledge Prof. Inouye DW and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an early version of this manuscript. We thank all attendants to the symposium at the 60th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of Japan in 2013 in Shizuoka who contributed valuable comments on each talk. This symposium was partly supported by the travel fund from Ecological Research. We thank Prof. Nobuhiro Kaneko for his support for a part of this study and Uryu Experimental Forest, Hokkaido University for providing long-term observation data of snowpack. This reviewing work is partly supported by research funds (22248016 and 25252026 for HS, 24-3240 for KM) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and the Environmental research and technology development fund (S-9-3) of the Ministry of the Environment, Japan.

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Correspondence to Kobayashi Makoto.

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Makoto, K., Kajimoto, T., Koyama, L. et al. Winter climate change in plant–soil systems: summary of recent findings and future perspectives. Ecol Res 29, 593–606 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11284-013-1115-0

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  • Nitrogen
  • Species interaction
  • Context dependence
  • Comparative study design
  • Winter–summer relationship
  • Ecosystem service