Halving sunlight reveals no carbon limitation of aboveground biomass production in alpine grassland

Moehl, Patrick and Hiltbrunner, Erika and Koerner, Christian. (2020) Halving sunlight reveals no carbon limitation of aboveground biomass production in alpine grassland. Global change biology, 26 (3). Pages 1857-1872.

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In temperate alpine environments, the short growing season, low temperature and a slow nutrient cycle may restrict plant growth more than carbon (C) assimilation does. To test the C-limitation hypothesis, we applied a shade gradient ranging from ambient light to 44% (maximum shade) of incident photon flux density (PFD) in late successional, Carex curvula dominated alpine grassland at 2,580m elevation in the Swiss central Alps for three years (2014-2016). Total aboveground biomass did not significantly decrease under reduced PFD, with a confidence interval reaching from+4% to -15% biomass in maximum shade. Belowground biomass, consisting to more than 80% of fine roots, was significantly reduced by a mean of 17.9±4.6% (± SE), corresponding to 228g/m2 , in maximum shade in 2015 and 2016. This suggests reduced investments into water and nutrient acquisition according to the functional equilibrium concept. Specific leaf area (SLA) and maximum leaf lengths of the most abundant species increased with decreasing PFD. Foliar concentration of non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) was reduced by 12.5±4.3% under maximum shade (mean of eight tested species), while NSC concentration of belowground storage organs were unchanged in the four most abundant forbs. Further, maximum shade lowered foliar delta13 C by 1.56±0.35 and increased foliar nitrogen concentrations per unit dry mass by 18.8±4.1% across six species in 2015. However, based on unit leaf area, N concentrations were lower in shade (effect of higher SLA). Thus, while we found typical morphological and physiological plant responses to lower light, shading did not considerably affect seasonal aboveground biomass production of this alpine plant community within a broad range of PFD. This suggests that C is not a growth limiting resource, matching the unresponsiveness to in situ CO2 enrichment previously reported for this type of grassland.© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Faculties and Departments:05 Faculty of Science > Departement Umweltwissenschaften > Integrative Biologie > Physiological Plant Ecology (Kahmen)
UniBasel Contributors:Möhl, Patrick and Hiltbrunner, Erika and Körner, Christian
Item Type:Article, refereed
Article Subtype:Research Article
Note:Publication type according to Uni Basel Research Database: Journal article
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Last Modified:24 Jan 2022 10:02
Deposited On:24 Jan 2022 10:02

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