Stratospheric ozone depletion caused by the release of chlorofluorocarbons is most pronounced at high latitudes, especially in the Southern Hemisphere (including the so-called ‘ozone hole’). The consequent increase in solar ultraviolet-B radiation (UV-B, 280–315 nm) reaching the earth's surface may cause a variety of alterations in terrestrial ecosystems. Most effects might be expected to occur above-ground since sunlight does not penetrate effectively below-ground. Here, we demonstrate that solar UV-B radiation in a fen in Tierra del Fuego (Argentina), where the ozone hole passes overhead several times during the Austral spring, is causing large changes of below-ground processes of this ecosystem. During the third and fourth year of a manipulative field experiment, we investigated root systems in these plots and found that when the ambient solar UV-B radiation was substantially reduced, there was a 30% increase in summer root length production and as much as a threefold decrease in already low symbiotic mycorrhizal colonization frequency of the roots compared with plots receiving near-ambient solar UV-B. There was also an apparent shift toward older age classes of roots under reduced solar UV-B. Such large changes in root system behaviour may have decided effects on competition and other ecological interactions in this ecosystem.
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