Response of bog and fen plant communities to warming and water-table manipulations

Jake F. Weltzin, John J Pastor, Calvin Harth, Scott D. Bridgham, Karen Updegraff, Carmen T. Chapin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

222 Scopus citations

Abstract

Large-scale changes in climate may have unexpected effects on ecosystems, given the importance of climate as a control over almost all ecosystem attributes and internal feedbacks. Changes in plant community productivity or composition, for example, may alter ecosystem resource dynamics, trophic structures, or disturbance regimes, with subsequent positive or negative feedbacks on the plant community. At northern latitudes, where increases in temperature are expected to be greatest but where plant species diversity is relatively low, climatically mediated changes in species composition or abundance will likely have large ecosystem effects. In this study, we investigated effects of infrared loading and manipulations of water-table elevation on net primary productivity of plant species in bog and fen wetland mesocosms between 1994 and 1997. We removed 27 intact soil monoliths (2.1 m2 surface area, 0.5-0.7 m depth) each from a bog and a fen in northern Minnesota to construct a large mesocosm facility that allows for direct manipulation of climatic variables in a replicated experimental design. The treatment design was a fully crossed factorial with three infrared-loading treatments, three water-table treatments, and two ecosystem types (bogs and fens), with three replicates of all treatment combinations. Overhead infrared lamps caused mean monthly soil temperatures to increase by 1.6-4.1°C at 15-cm depth during the growing season (May-October). In 1996, depths to water table averaged -11, -19, and -26 cm in the bog plots, and 0, -10, and -19 cm in the fen plots. Annual aboveground net primary production (ANPP) of bryophyte, forb, graminoid, and shrub life-forms was determined for the dominant species in the mesocosm plots based on species-specific canopy/biomass relationships. Belowground net primary production (BNPP) was estimated using root in-growth cores. Bog and fen communities differed in their response to infrared loading and water-table treatments because of the differential response of life-forms and species characteristic of each community. Along a gradient of increasing water-table elevation, production of bryophytes increased, and production of shrubs decreased in the bog community. Along a similar gradient in the fen community, production of graminoids and forbs increased. Along a gradient of increasing infrared loading in the bog, shrub production increased whereas graminoid production decreased. In the fen, graminoids were most productive at high infrared loading, and forbs were most productive at medium infrared loading. In the bog and fen, BNPP:ANPP ratios increased with warming and drying, indicating shifts in carbon allocation in response to climate change. Further, opposing responses of species and life-forms tended to cancel out the response of production at higher levels of organization, especially in the bog. For example, total net primary productivity in the bog did not differ between water-table treatments because BNPP was greatest in the dry treatment whereas ANPP was greatest in the wet treatment. The differential responses of species, life-forms, and above- and belowground biomass production to the treatments suggest that bog and fen plant communities will change, in different directions and magnitudes, in response to warming and changes in water-table elevation. Further, results of this and complementary research indicate that these peatlands may mediate their energy, carbon, and nutrient budgets through differential responses of the plant communities. Thus, predictions of the response of peatlands to changes in climate should consider differences in plant community structure, as well as biogeochemistry and hydrology, that characterize and differentiate these two ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3464-3478
Number of pages15
JournalEcology
Volume81
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2000

Keywords

  • Aboveground net primary productivity
  • Belowground net primary productivity
  • Climate change
  • Global warming
  • Land use change
  • Peatlands
  • Soil warming
  • Water-table
  • Wetlands

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