Activity of temperate grassland plants and symbiotic fungi during the winter – implications for community structure and carbon cycling in a changing climate


J. Birgander, Biodiversity, Dept of Biology, Lund Univ., Getingevägen 60, SE-222 41 Lund, Sweden. E-mail:


Several investigations have revealed surprisingly high activities during the winter in vegetation and soil in temperate and subarctic areas. Plants have been found to photosynthesize even under snow cover and at temperatures below freezing, and decomposer microorganisms can function, at low rates, all year around. In temperate grasslands, the vegetation includes winter annual herbs as well as bryophytes, which have the potential to be active and are thus susceptible to changing temperatures during winter. If temperatures stay below freezing and there is a snow cover, an increase in temperatures could in fact decrease the soil temperature due to reduced insulation by snow cover. On the other hand, if winter temperatures initially fluctuate around the freezing point, an increase by a few degrees might produce frost-free conditions. Based on available data, the composition of plant communities are strongly influenced by temperature conditions in the preceding winter. We conclude that the winter season in grasslands needs more research attention, to start to resolve which species are active and how they respond to a changing climate.