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Reduced N cycling in response to elevated CO2, warming, and drought in a Danish heathland: Synthesizing results of the CLIMAITE project after two years of treatments

Journal article
Authors K. S. Larsen
Louise C. Andresen
C. Beier
S. Jonasson
K. R. Albert
P. Ambus
M. F. Arndal
M. S. Carter
S. Christensen
M. Holmstrup
A. Ibrom
J. Kongstad
L. van der Linden
K. Maraldo
A. Michelsen
T. N. Mikkelsen
K. Pilegaard
A. Prieme
H. Ro-Poulsen
I. K. Schmidt
M. B. Selsted
K. Stevnbak
Published in Global Change Biology
Volume 17
Issue 5
Pages 1884-1899
ISSN 1354-1013
Publication year 2011
Published at
Pages 1884-1899
Language en
Subject categories Climate Research, Terrestrial ecology


Field-scale experiments simulating realistic future climate scenarios are important tools for investigating the effects of current and future climate changes on ecosystem functioning and biogeochemical cycling. We exposed a seminatural Danish heathland ecosystem to elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), warming, and extended summer drought in all combinations. Here, we report on the short-term responses of the nitrogen (N) cycle after 2 years of treatments. Elevated CO2 significantly affected aboveground stoichiometry by increasing the carbon to nitrogen (C/N) ratios in the leaves of both co-dominant species (Calluna vulgaris and Deschampsia flexuosa), as well as the C/N ratios of Calluna flowers and by reducing the N concentration of Deschampsia litter. Belowground, elevated CO2 had only minor effects, whereas warming increased N turnover, as indicated by increased rates of microbial NH4+ consumption, gross mineralization, potential nitrification, denitrification and N2O emissions. Drought reduced belowground gross N mineralization and decreased fauna N mass and fauna N mineralization. Leaching was unaffected by treatments but was significantly higher across all treatments in the second year than in the much drier first year indicating that ecosystem N loss is highly sensitive to changes and variability in amount and timing of precipitation. Interactions between treatments were common and although some synergistic effects were observed, antagonism dominated the interactive responses in treatment combinations, i.e. responses were smaller in combinations than in single treatments. Nonetheless, increased C/N ratios of photosynthetic tissue in response to elevated CO2, as well as drought-induced decreases in litter N production and fauna N mineralization prevailed in the full treatment combination. Overall, the simulated future climate scenario therefore lead to reduced N turnover, which could act to reduce the potential growth response of plants to elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration.

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