The response of grassland carbon cycling to drought events and changes in nutrient availability

Cole, Andrew and Ostle, Nick (2016) The response of grassland carbon cycling to drought events and changes in nutrient availability. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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In grasslands, climate change has the potential to disrupt a range of ecosystem services, including agricultural production, carbon (C) storage and nutrient cycling. In particular, climate change is likely to increase the frequency and severity of extreme climate events, such as drought and the subsequent rewetting event. Yet the effect of drought events will not be consistent across grassland communities, instead likely varying with grassland properties. One such property may be the level of nutrient availability, which brings about changes in plant productivity, plant community composition, and soil microbial composition and function. In this thesis, the effect of reduced precipitation on C cycling in UK species-rich grasslands is investigated in two field experiments, with varying long-term grassland restoration treatments and short-term nutrient addition, and a glasshouse experiment with reduced soil moisture. It was hypothesised that changes in plant and soil microbial communities, brought about by differences in nutrient availability, would modulate above and belowground C cycling responses to drought. This thesis found that the level of nutrient availability was important for modulating how C is cycled in response to drought in plants, soil microbial communities and whole ecosystem CO2 fluxes. For plants, the effect of drought and nutrient availability differed between functional groups, species and due to intraspecific trait variation. For soil microbial communities, the effect of drought on carbon use efficiency was modulated by short-term nutrient addition. Increased nutrient availability and drought therefore interact to determine how C is cycled and stored in plants and soil microbial communities, revealing the importance of agricultural practices in modulating whole community responses to climate change. Overall, this thesis shows the mechanisms by which drought may alter C cycling and its potential feedbacks to climate are complex, but at least in part, depend on the level of nutrient availability.

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Thesis (PhD)
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19 Jun 2017 14:00
Last Modified:
06 Jun 2024 23:47