Experimental warming amplified opposite impacts of drought vs. wet extremes on ecosystem carbon cycle in a tallgrass prairie

Published by Stephanie Mayer on

Climate warming is leading to greater precipitation variability, resulting in increased frequency and intensity of both drought and wet extremes. However, how these extreme events interact with climate warming and hay-harvest in grasslands to impact ecosystem functions has not yet been well explored. In this study, we took advantage of a long-term experiment to examine how climate warming and clipping (i.e., mimicking hay harvest) regulated impacts of naturally occurring drought and wet extremes on ecosystem CO2 fluxes of a tallgrass prairie in the Great Plains, USA. Warming resulted in net ecosystem carbon release (i.e., positive net ecosystem CO2 exchange, NEE) in the extreme drought year of 2011, but significantly enhanced net carbon uptake in the extremely wet year of 2015 in comparison with NEE in normal years. Warming-induced carbon release in the drought year was due to significantly enhanced ecosystem respiration (ER) from mid-summer to early-autumn, whereas warming-enhanced NEE in the wet year was due to an increase in aboveground net primary production (ANPP) compared to those in normal years. Drought diminished warming-induced increases in ANPP to about one sixth of that in the wet year in the unclipped plots. Interestingly, clipping offset the drought-mediated ecosystem carbon loss by increasing GPP and weakened the wet-enhanced ANPP. Overall, our results suggest that a future, warmer climate may exacerbate carbon losses in terrestrial ecosystems during drought extremes but stimulate the ecosystem carbon sink under wet extremes.