Warming and elevated CO2 intensify drought and recovery responses of grassland carbon allocation to soil respiration

Kathiravan Meeran, Johannes Ingrisch, David Reinthaler, Alberto Canarini, Lena Müller, Erich M. Pötsch, Andreas Richter, Wolfgang Wanek, Michael Bahn

First published: 03 April 2021 https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15628


Photosynthesis and soil respiration represent the two largest fluxes of CO2 in terrestrial ecosystems and are tightly linked through belowground carbon (C) allocation. Drought has been suggested to impact the allocation of recently assimilated C to soil respiration; however, it is largely unknown how drought effects are altered by a future warmer climate under elevated atmospheric CO2 (eT_eCO2). In a multifactor experiment on managed C3 grassland, we studied the individual and interactive effects of drought and eT_eCO2 (drought, eT_eCO2, drought × eT_eCO2) on ecosystem C dynamics. We performed two in situ 13CO2 pulse-labeling campaigns to trace the fate of recent C during peak drought and recovery. eT_eCO2 increased soil respiration and the fraction of recently assimilated C in soil respiration. During drought, plant C uptake was reduced by c. 50% in both ambient and eT_eCO2 conditions. Soil respiration and the amount and proportion of 13C respired from soil were reduced (by 32%, 70% and 30%, respectively), the effect being more pronounced under eT_eCO2 (50%, 84%, 70%). Under drought, the diel coupling of photosynthesis and SR persisted only in the eT_eCO2 scenario, likely caused by dynamic shifts in the use of freshly assimilated C between storage and respiration. Drought did not affect the fraction of recent C remaining in plant biomass under ambient and eT_eCO2, but reduced the small fraction remaining in soil under eT_eCO2. After rewetting, C uptake and the proportion of recent C in soil respiration recovered more rapidly under eT_eCO2 compared to ambient conditions. Overall, our findings suggest that in a warmer climate under elevated CO2 drought effects on the fate of recent C will be amplified and the coupling of photosynthesis and soil respiration will be sustained. To predict the future dynamics of terrestrial C cycling, such interactive effects of multiple global change factors should be considered.