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Reduced diurnal temperature range does not change warming impacts on ecosystem carbon balance of Mediterranean grassland mesocosms


Correspondence: Claire Phillips, Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, P.O. Box 808, L-397, Livermore, CA 94551-0808, USA, tel. (925) 423-0678, fax (925) 423-7884, e-mail:


Daily minimum temperature (Tmin) has increased faster than daily maximum temperature (Tmax) in many parts of the world, leading to decreases in diurnal temperature range (DTR). Projections suggest that these trends are likely to continue in many regions, particularly in northern latitudes and in arid regions. Despite wide speculation that asymmetric warming has different impacts on plant and ecosystem production than equal-night-and-day warming, there has been little direct comparison of these scenarios. Reduced DTR has also been widely misinterpreted as a result of night-only warming, when in fact Tmin occurs near dawn, indicating higher morning as well as night temperatures. We report on the first experiment to examine ecosystem-scale impacts of faster increases in Tmin than in Tmax, using precise temperature controls to create realistic diurnal temperature profiles with gradual day–night temperature transitions and elevated early morning as well as night temperatures. Studying a constructed grassland ecosystem containing species native to Oregon, USA, we found that the ecosystem lost more carbon at elevated than ambient temperatures, but remained unaffected by the 3 °C difference in DTR between symmetric warming (constantly ambient + 3.5 °C) and asymmetric warming (dawn Tmin = ambient + 5 °C, afternoon Tmax = ambient + 2 °C). Reducing DTR had no apparent effect on photosynthesis, probably because temperatures were most different in the morning and late afternoon when light was low. Respiration was also similar in both warming treatments, because respiration temperature sensitivity was not sufficient to respond to the limited temperature differences between asymmetric and symmetric warming. We concluded that changes in daily mean temperatures, rather than changes in Tmin/Tmax, were sufficient for predicting ecosystem carbon fluxes in this reconstructed Mediterranean grassland system.