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Keywords:

  • Antarctic Peninsula;
  • carbon cycling;
  • carbon isotopes;
  • climate change;
  • Colobanthus quitensis;
  • Deschampsia antarctica;
  • nitrogen isotopes;
  • plant cover;
  • primary production;
  • species composition

Abstract

We passively warmed tundra on the Antarctic Peninsula over four growing seasons and assessed its effect on dry mass and C and N stocks associated with the vascular plants Colobanthus quitensis (a cushion-forming forb) and Deschampsia antarctica (a tussock grass), and mosses. Temperature treatments involved a warmed treatment that raised diurnal and diel canopy air temperatures by 2.3 and 1.3 °C, respectively, and a near-ambient temperature treatment that raised diurnal and diel temperatures by 0.2 °C. These two different temperature regimes were achieved by wrapping filters around the frames to different extents and were nested within three UV treatments that filtered different solar UV wavebands. The experiment also included an ambient control treatment (unfiltered frames), and supplemental water and fertilizer treatments (applied to unfiltered frames). After four growing seasons, we collected cores of each vascular plant species and assessed the mass and C and N content of the aboveground current-year biomass, the litter layer (which included nongreen live stems), and the organic soil horizon (which included roots). The thin nature of the organic soil horizon allowed us to sample this complete horizon and estimate near-total ecosystem C and N stocks. A comparison of the warmed and near-ambient temperature treatments found that warming led to greater aboveground biomass of C. quitensis, and more C in the aboveground biomass of both vascular plant species. Warming resulted in lower N concentrations of the aboveground biomass of both species. The water use efficiency of both species was greater under warming, based on their higher δ13C values. The mass of the litter layer under C. quitensis was greater under warming, and this layer contained more C and N and had a higher C : N ratio. The mass of the organic soil horizon under both species was greater under warming, and this horizon also contained more C and N. Warming also changed the species composition of the plant community – cover of C. quitensis increased while that of mosses declined. Warming resulted in the input of biomass into the system that had greater C : N ratios (and was likely more recalcitrant to decomposition) because (1) warming increased the C : N ratio of the biomass produced by both vascular plant species, (2) these inputs increased with warming because of greater biomass production, and (3) increases in C. quitensis cover led to greater biomass inputs by this species and its biomass had a greater C : N ratio than D. antarctica. Water or fertilizer supplements had few effects on aboveground biomass or C and N concentrations or pools, consistent with the relatively wet maritime climate and high soil nutrient levels of this system. Total C pools in the aboveground biomass, litter, and organic soil horizon were greater under warming. Warmed plots contained from 272 to 319 g m−2 more C than plots under near-ambient temperatures, corresponding to a 23–34% increase in ecosystem C.