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Predicting ecosystem carbon balance in a warming Arctic: the importance of long-term thermal acclimation potential and inhibitory effects of light on respiration


  • Blair C. McLaughlin,

    1. Department of Integrative Biology, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA
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  • Cheng-Yuan Xu,

    1. Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, Qld, Australia
    2. Faculty of Science, Health, Education and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore, DC Qld, Australia
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  • Edward B. Rastetter,

    1. The Ecosystems Center, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA, USA
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  • Kevin L. Griffin

    Corresponding author
    1. Departments of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
    2. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, NY, USA
    • Correspondence: Kevin Griffin, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, NY 10964, USA, tel. +1 845 365 8371, fax +1 845 365 8150,


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The carbon balance of Arctic ecosystems is particularly sensitive to global environmental change. Leaf respiration (R), a temperature-dependent key process in determining the carbon balance, is not well-understood in Arctic plants. The potential for plants to acclimate to warmer conditions could strongly impact future global carbon balance. Two key unanswered questions are (1) whether short-term temperature responses can predict long-term respiratory responses to growth in elevated temperatures and (2) to what extent the constant daylight conditions of the Arctic growing season inhibit leaf respiration. In two dominant Arctic species E riophorum vaginatum (tussock grass) and B etula nana (woody shrub), we assessed the extent of respiratory inhibition in the light (R L/R D), respiratory response to short-term temperature change, and respiratory acclimation to long-term warming treatments. We found that R of both species is strongly inhibited by light (averaging 35% across all measurement temperatures). In E . vaginatum both R L and R D acclimated to the long-term warming treatment, reducing the magnitude of respiratory response relative to the short-term response to temperature increase. In B . nana, both R L and R D responded to short-term temperature increase but showed no acclimation to the long-term warming. The ability to predict plant respiratory response to global warming with short-term temperature responses will depend on species-specific acclimation potential and the differential response of R L and R D to temperature. With projected woody shrub encroachment in Arctic tundra and continued warming, changing species dominance between these two functional groups, may impact ecosystem respiratory response and carbon balance.

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