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Belowground impacts of alpine woody encroachment are determined by plant traits, local climate, and soil conditions


Abstract

Global climate and land use change are causing woody plant encroachment in arctic, alpine, and arid/semi‐arid ecosystems around the world, yet our understanding of the belowground impacts of this phenomenon is limited. We conducted a globally distributed field study of 13 alpine sites across four continents undergoing woody plant encroachment and sampled soils from both woody encroached and nearby herbaceous plant community types. We found that woody plant encroachment influenced soil microbial richness and community composition across sites based on multiple factors including woody plant traits, site level climate, and abiotic soil conditions. In particular, root symbiont type was a key determinant of belowground effects, as Nitrogen‐fixing woody plants had higher soil fungal richness, while Ecto/Ericoid mycorrhizal species had higher soil bacterial richness and symbiont types had distinct soil microbial community composition. Woody plant leaf traits indirectly influenced soil microbes through their impact on soil abiotic conditions, primarily soil pH and C:N ratios. Finally, site‐level climate affected the overall magnitude and direction of woody plant influence, as soil fungal and bacterial richness were either higher or lower in woody encroached versus herbaceous soils depending on mean annual temperature and precipitation. All together, these results document global impacts of woody plant encroachment on soil microbial communities, but highlight that multiple biotic and abiotic pathways must be considered to scale up globally from site‐ and species‐level patterns. Considering both the aboveground and belowground effects of woody encroachment will be critical to predict future changes in alpine ecosystem structure and function and subsequent feedbacks to the global climate system.

Abstract

Global climate and land use change are causing woody plant encroachment in arctic, alpine, and arid/semi‐arid ecosystems around the world, yet our understanding of the belowground impacts of this phenomenon is limited. We conducted a globally distributed field study of 13 alpine sites across four continents undergoing woody plant encroachment and sampled soils from both woody encroached and nearby herbaceous plant community types. We found that woody plant encroachment influenced soil microbial richness and community composition across sites based on multiple factors including woody plant traits, site level climate, and abiotic soil conditions. In particular, root symbiont type was a key determinant of belowground effects, as Nitrogen‐fixing woody plants had higher soil fungal richness, while Ecto/Ericoid mycorrhizal species had higher soil bacterial richness and symbiont types had distinct soil microbial community composition. Woody plant leaf traits indirectly influenced soil microbes through their impact on soil abiotic conditions, primarily soil pH and C:N ratios. Finally, site‐level climate affected the overall magnitude and direction of woody plant influence, as soil fungal and bacterial richness were either higher or lower in woody encroached versus herbaceous soils depending on mean annual temperature and precipitation. All together, these results document global impacts of woody plant encroachment on soil microbial communities, but highlight that multiple biotic and abiotic pathways must be considered to scale up globally from site‐ and species‐level patterns. Considering both the aboveground and belowground effects of woody encroachment will be critical to predict future changes in alpine ecosystem structure and function and subsequent feedbacks to the global climate system.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Scopus Subject Areas:Physical Sciences > Global and Planetary Change
Physical Sciences > Environmental Chemistry
Physical Sciences > Ecology
Physical Sciences > General Environmental Science
Uncontrolled Keywords:Ecology, Global and Planetary Change, General Environmental Science, Environmental Chemistry
Language:English
Date:1 December 2020
Deposited On:16 Feb 2021 13:33
Last Modified:17 Feb 2021 21:01
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
ISSN:1354-1013
OA Status:Closed
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15340
PubMed ID:32902066

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