Positive feedback of elevated CO2 on soil respiration in late autumn and winter
Abstract. Soil respiration of terrestrial ecosystems, a major component in the global carbon cycle is affected by elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations. However, seasonal differences of feedback effects of elevated CO2 have rarely been studied. At the Gießen Free-Air CO2 Enrichment (GiFACE) site, the effects of +20% above ambient CO2 concentration have been investigated since 1998 in a temperate grassland ecosystem. We defined five distinct annual seasons, with respect to management practices and phenological cycles. For a period of 3 years (2008–2010), weekly measurements of soil respiration were carried out with a survey chamber on vegetation-free subplots. The results revealed a pronounced and repeated increase of soil respiration under elevated CO2 during late autumn and winter dormancy. Increased CO2 losses during the autumn season (September–October) were 15.7% higher and during the winter season (November–March) were 17.4% higher compared to respiration from ambient CO2 plots.
However, during spring time and summer, which are characterized by strong above- and below-ground plant growth, no significant change in soil respiration was observed at the GiFACE site under elevated CO2. This suggests (1) that soil respiration measurements, carried out only during the growing season under elevated CO2 may underestimate the true soil-respiratory CO2 loss (i.e. overestimate the C sequestered), and (2) that additional C assimilated by plants during the growing season and transferred below-ground will quickly be lost via enhanced heterotrophic respiration outside the main growing season.