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Glob Chang Biol. 2015 Oct;21(10):3846-53. doi: 10.1111/gcb.12940. Epub 2015 Jun 8.

Plant community structure regulates responses of prairie soil respiration to decadal experimental warming.

Xu X1,2, Shi Z2, Li D2,3, Zhou X2,4, Sherry RA2,5, Luo Y2.

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Co-Innovation Center for Sustainable Forestry in Southern China, College of Biology and the Environment, Nanjing Forestry University, Nanjing, 210037, China.
Department of Microbiology and Plant Biology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, 73019, USA.
China Institute of Subtropical Agriculture, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Changsha, 410125, China.
Tiantong National Field Observation Station for Forest Ecosystem, State Key Laboratory of Estuarine and Coastal Research, School of Ecological and Environmental Sciences, East China Normal University, Shanghai, 200062, China.
US Geological Survey, Fort Collins Science Center, Fort Collins, CO, 80526, USA.


Soil respiration is recognized to be influenced by temperature, moisture, and ecosystem production. However, little is known about how plant community structure regulates responses of soil respiration to climate change. Here, we used a 13-year field warming experiment to explore the mechanisms underlying plant community regulation on feedbacks of soil respiration to climate change in a tallgrass prairie in Oklahoma, USA. Infrared heaters were used to elevate temperature about 2 °C since November 1999. Annual clipping was used to mimic hay harvest. Our results showed that experimental warming significantly increased soil respiration approximately from 10% in the first 7 years (2000-2006) to 30% in the next 6 years (2007-2012). The two-stage warming stimulation of soil respiration was closely related to warming-induced increases in ecosystem production over the years. Moreover, we found that across the 13 years, warming-induced increases in soil respiration were positively affected by the proportion of aboveground net primary production (ANPP) contributed by C3 forbs. Functional composition of the plant community regulated warming-induced increases in soil respiration through the quantity and quality of organic matter inputs to soil and the amount of photosynthetic carbon (C) allocated belowground. Clipping, the interaction of clipping with warming, and warming-induced changes in soil temperature and moisture all had little effect on soil respiration over the years (all P > 0.05). Our results suggest that climate warming may drive an increase in soil respiration through altering composition of plant communities in grassland ecosystems.


ecosystem production; plant community composition; soil respiration; tallgrass prairie; warming

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