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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2020-134
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2020-134
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 28 Apr 2020

Submitted as: research article | 28 Apr 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Soils from cold and snowy temperate deciduous forests release more nitrogen and phosphorus after soil freeze-thaw cycles than soils from warmer, snow-poor conditions

Juergen Kreyling1, Rhena Schumann2, and Robert Weigel1,3 Juergen Kreyling et al.
  • 1Experimental Plant Ecology, University of Greifswald, Greifswald, D-17489, Germany
  • 2Biological Station Zingst, Applied Ecology & Phycology, University of Rostock, 18374 Zingst, Mühlenstraße 27, Germany
  • 3Albrecht-von-Haller-Institute for Plant Sciences, University of Goettingen, Goettingen, 37073, Germany

Abstract. Effects of global warming are most pronounced in winter. A reduction in snow cover due to warmer atmospheric temperature in formerly cold ecosystems, however, could counteract an increase in soil temperature by reduction of insulation. Thus, soil freeze-thaw cycles (FTC) might increase in frequency and magnitude with warming, potentially leading to a disturbance of the soil biota and release of nutrients.

Here, we assessed how soil freeze-thaw magnitude and frequency affect short-term release of nutrients in temperate deciduous forest soils by conducting a three factorial gradient experiment with ex-situ soil samples in climate chambers. The fully-crossed experiment included soils from forests dominated by Fagus sylvatica (European beech) that originate from different winter climate (mean coldest month temperature range ΔT > 4 K), a range of FTC magnitudes from no (T = 4.0 °C) to strong (T = −11.3 °C) soil frost, and a range of FTC frequencies (f = 0–7). We hypothesized that higher frost magnitude and frequency, respectively, will increase the release of nutrients. Furthermore, soils from cold climates with historically stable winter soil temperatures due to deep snow cover will be more responsive to FTC than soils from warmer, more fluctuating winter soil climates.

FTC magnitude and, to a lesser extent, also FTC frequency resulted in increased nitrate, ammonium, and phosphate release almost exclusively in soils from cold, snow-rich sites. The hierarchical regression analyses of our three-factorial gradient experiment revealed that the effects of climatic origin (mean minimum winter temperature) followed a sigmoidal curve for all studied nutrients and was modulated either by FTC magnitude (phosphate) or by FTC magnitude and frequency (nitrate, ammonium) in complex two- and, for all studied nutrients, in threefold interactions of the environmental drivers. Compared to initial concentrations, soluble nutrients were predicted to increase to 250 % for nitrate (up to 16 µg NO3-N kg−1 DM), to 110 % for ammonium (up to 60 µg NH4-N kg−1 DM), and to 400 % for phosphate (2.2 µg PO4-P kg−1 DM) at the coldest site for strongest magnitude and highest frequency. Soils from warmer sites showed little nutrient release and were largely unaffected by the FTC treatments except for above-average nitrate release at the warmest sites in response to extremely cold FTC magnitude.

We suggest that currently warmer forest soils have historically already passed the point of high responsiveness to winter climate change, displaying some form of adaptation either in the soil biotic composition or in labile nutrient sources. Our data suggests that previously cold sites, which will lose their protective snow cover during climate change, are most vulnerable to increasing FTC frequency and magnitude, resulting in strong shifts in nitrogen and phosphorus release. In nutrient poor European beech forests of the studied Pleistocene lowlands, nutrients released over winter may be leached out, inducing reduced plant growth rates in the following growing season.

Juergen Kreyling et al.

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Short summary
Temperate forest soils (sites dominated by European beech, Fagus sylvatica) from cold and snowy sites in northern Poland release more nitrogen and phosphorus after soil freeze-thaw cycles (FTC) than soils from warmer, snow-poor conditions in northern Germany. Our data suggests that previously cold sites, which will lose their protective snow cover during climate change, are most vulnerable to increasing FTC frequency and magnitude, resulting in strong shifts in nitrogen leaching.
Temperate forest soils (sites dominated by European beech, Fagus sylvatica) from cold and snowy...
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