The immediate and prolonged effects of climate extremes on soil respiration in a mesic grassland

TitleThe immediate and prolonged effects of climate extremes on soil respiration in a mesic grassland
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsHoover, DL, Knapp, AK, Smith, MD
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Pagination1034 - 1044
Accession NumberKNZ001780

The predicted increase in the frequency and intensity of climate extremes is expected to impact terrestrial carbon fluxes to the atmosphere, potentially changing ecosystems from carbon sinks to sources, with positive feedbacks to climate change. As the second largest terrestrial carbon flux, soil CO2 efflux or soil respiration (Rs) is strongly influenced by soil temperature and moisture. Thus, climate extremes such as heat waves and extreme drought should have substantial impacts on Rs. We investigated the effects of such climate extremes on growing season Rs in a mesic grassland by experimentally imposing 2 years of extreme drought combined with midsummer heat waves. After this 2 year period, we continued to measure Rs during a recovery year. Two consecutive drought years reduced Rs by about 25% each growing season; however, when normal rainfall returned during the recovery year, formerly droughted plots had higher rates of Rs than control plots (up to +17%). The heat wave treatments had no effect on Rs, alone or when combined with drought, and during the growing season, soil moisture was the primary driver of Rs with little evidence for Rs temperature sensitivity. When compared to aboveground net primary production, growing season Rs was much less sensitive to drought but was more responsive postdrought. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that ecosystems become sources of CO2 during drought because carbon inputs (production) are decreased relatively more than outputs (respiration). Moreover, stimulation of Rs postdrought may lengthen the time required for net carbon exchange to return to predrought levels.