Interacting effects of growing season and winter climate change on nitrogen and carbon cycling in northern hardwood forests

TitleInteracting effects of growing season and winter climate change on nitrogen and carbon cycling in northern hardwood forests
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsSanders-DeMott, R
Date Published2017///
UniversityBoston University

Human activities such as fossil fuel combustion and deforestation have increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, reactive nitrogen, and other greenhouse gases. As a result, Earth's surface has warmed by 0.85 °C since the pre-industrial era and will continue to warm. Many northern latitude temperate forest ecosystems mitigate the effects of both elevated carbon dioxide and atmospheric nitrogen deposition through retention of carbon and nitrogen in plants and soils. However, the continued ability of these ecosystems to store carbon and nitrogen will be altered with continued climate change. Warmer winters will lead to reduced depth and duration of snowpack, which insulates soils from cold winter air. Climate change over the next century will therefore affect soil temperatures in northern temperate forests in opposing directions across seasons, with warmer soils in the growing season and colder, more variable soil temperatures in winter. Warmer growing seasons generally increase ecosystem uptake and storage of carbon and nitrogen, whereas a smaller snowpack and colder soils in winter reduce rates of ecosystem nutrient cycling and plant growth. My dissertation aims to understand how climate change in the growing season and winter interact to affect function and nitrogen cycling in northern hardwood forest ecosystems. I accomplished this goal through formal literature review and two climate change manipulation experiments at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, NH. I found that although 67% of climate change experiments were conducted in seasonally snow covered ecosystems, only 14% take into account the effects of distinct climate changes in winter. By simulating climate change across seasons, I demonstrated that changes in nitrogen cycling caused by increased soil freezing in winter are not offset by warming in the growing season. Moreover, shifts in plant function due to winter climate change are mediated through a combination of changes in snow depth, soil temperature, and plant-herbivore interactions that differentially affect above- and belowground plant components. These results would not be evident from examining climate change in either the growing season or winter alone and demonstrate the need for considering seasonally distinct climate change to determine how nitrogen and carbon cycling will change in the future.

Thesis Type

PhD Thesis