Climate change impairs nitrogen cycling in european beech forests

Michael Dannenmann, Carolin Bimüller, Silvia Gschwendtner, Martin Leberecht, Javier Tejedor, Silvija Bilela, Rainer Gasche, Marc Hanewinkel, Andri Baltensweiler, Ingrid Kögel-Knabner, Andrea Polle, Michael Schloter, Judy Simon, Heinz Rennenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations

Abstract

European beech forests growing on marginal calcareous soils have been proposed to be vulnerable to decreased soil water availability. This could result in a large-scale loss of ecological services and economical value in a changing climate. In order to evaluate the potential consequences of this drought-sensitivity, we investigated potential species range shifts for European beech forests on calcareous soil in the 21st century by statistical species range distribution modelling for present day and projected future climate conditions. We found a dramatic decline by 78% until 2080. Still the physiological or biogeochemical mechanisms underlying the drought sensitivity of European beech are largely unknown. Drought sensitivity of beech is commonly attributed to plant physiological constraints. Furthermore, it has also been proposed that reduced soil water availability could promote nitrogen (N) limitation of European beech due to impaired microbial N cycling in soil, but this hypothesis has not yet been tested. Hence we investigated the influence of simulated climate change (increased temperatures, reduced soil water availability) on soil gross microbial N turnover and plant N uptake in the beech-soil interface of a typical mountainous beech forest stocking on calcareous soil in SW Germany. For this purpose, triple 15N isotope labelling of intact beech seedling-soil-microbe systems was combined with a space-for-time climate change experiment. We found that nitrate was the dominant N source for beech natural regeneration. Reduced soil water content caused a persistent decline of ammonia oxidizing bacteria and therefore, a massive attenuation of gross nitrification rates and nitrate availability in the soil. Consequently, nitrate and total N uptake of beech seedlings were strongly reduced so that impaired growth of beech seedlings was observed already after one year of exposure to simulated climatic change. We conclude that the N cycle in this ecosystem and here specifically nitrification is vulnerable to reduced water availability, which can directly lead to nutritional limitations of beech seedlings. This tight link between reduced water availability, drought stress for nitrifiers, decreased gross nitrification rates and nitrate availability and finally nitrate uptake by beech seedlings could represent the Achilles' heel for beech under climate change stresses.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0158823
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume11
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2016

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