A single drought event of 100-year recurrence enhances subsequent carbon uptake and changes carbon allocation in experimental grassland communities


  • Focus Issue Soil Processes under Extreme Meteorological Conditions. Selected papers presented on an international symposium held in Bayreuth (Germany), February 25–28, 2007 (Convenors: E. Matzner and W. Borken).


Evidence suggests that the expected increase in frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events during climate change will alter plant productivity. Therefore, extreme weather events might also be capable of changing C sequestration and allocation. Here, experimental grassland communities of two species compositions, differing in their diversity, were exposed either to a simulated single drought or to a heavy-rainfall event. The magnitude of these manipulations imitated the local 100-year weather extreme according to extreme-value statistics. Effects on Net Ecosystem CO2 Exchange (NEE in µmol m–2 s–1) as well as aboveground biomass production and leaf-area index (LAI) were recorded from prior to the manipulations until two months after the manipulations ended. Initial light utilization efficiency and maximum NEE increased after the drought. No change in the respiration was detected and maximum uptake capacity (GPPmax) was 15% higher for the drought-manipulated plots compared to controls, which indicates an enhanced CO2 uptake into the systems. The level of diversity was also found to alter the light-response curves, increasing respiration and maximum NEE to a higher degree than drought in the more diverse compared to the less diverse community. This resulted in an increase of GPPmax by 55%. No significant interactions between species composition and weather manipulations were detected. Interestingly, aboveground biomass production was not significantly affected by weather manipulations, even though LAI increased due to drought. This increase was caused by a decrease in the ratio between reproductive and vegetative growth. The heavy-rainfall manipulation resulted in no significant effects. Our data suggest that C sequestration can be enhanced by a single weather event. However the importance, long-term duration, and thresholds or turning points of such effects need to be investigated further as intensification of weather extremes is currently emerging as one of the most important facets of climate change.