CR 64:159-171 (2015)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/cr01273

Experimental warming and fire alter fluxes of soil nutrients in sub-alpine open heathland

A. C. White-Monsant1,*, G. J. Clark1, M. A. G. Ng Kam Chuen1, J. S. Camac2, X. Wang1, W. A. Papst3, C. Tang1,*

1Centre for Agribiosciences, La Trobe University, Melbourne Campus, Bundoora, VIC 3086, Australia
2Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia
3Research Centre for Applied Alpine Ecology, La Trobe University, Melbourne Campus, Bundoora, VIC 3086, Australia

ABSTRACT: Climatic changes in the Australian Alps are likely to raise mean ambient temperatures, decrease precipitation and increase the frequency of fires, which together are likely to affect soil nutrients. Changes in the availability of soil nutrients are in turn expected to influence plant growth and community composition. In alpine soils of the southern hemisphere, it is unknown how the interaction between warming and fire will affect nutrient availability and to what extent changes will resemble global trends. We used open-top chambers and ion-exchange membranes to examine the effects of warming and fire on the cumulative flux of available nutrients and toxic elements in soil of a sub-alpine heathland during the final 2 yr of a 9 yr passive warming and post-fire experiment at sites on the Bogong High Plains, Victoria, Australia. Compared to unwarmed plots, experimental warming increased NH4+, H2PO4-, Na+ and K+, and decreased Mg2+, Ca2+, Al3+ and soil moisture. Increased N and P are consistent with changes in alpine soils of the northern hemisphere, but the effect of warming on other elements has not been reported. A consistent decrease in Al3+ availability with warming has implications for carbon turnover and invasion by exotic species. Fire increased Al3+ availability and decreased Mn2+ availability, indicating a change in potentially toxic elements in burnt areas. Warming and drying changed the availability of all measured nutrients and resembled trends in the northern hemisphere, indicating that changes in the alpine and sub-alpine ecosystems of the Australian Alps, and globally, are probably inevitable.


KEY WORDS: Alpine soil · Climate change · Ion-exchange membrane · IEM · Nitrogen · Open-top chamber · OTC · Soil moisture · Soil temperature


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Cite this article as: White-Monsant AC, Clark GJ, Ng Kam Chuen MAG, Camac JS, Wang X, Papst WA, Tang C (2015) Experimental warming and fire alter fluxes of soil nutrients in sub-alpine open heathland. Clim Res 64:159-171. https://doi.org/10.3354/cr01273

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