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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  03 Sep 2020

03 Sep 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

The rising productivity of alpine grassland under warming, drought and N-deposition treatments

Matthias Volk1, Matthias Suter2, Anne-Lena Wahl1, and Seraina Bassin1,3 Matthias Volk et al.
  • 1Climate and Agriculture, Agroscope, Reckenholzstrasse 191, 8046 Zurich, Switzerland
  • 2Forage Production and Grassland Systems, Agroscope, Reckenholzstrasse 191, 8046 Zurich, Switzerland
  • 3Pädagogische Hochschule Schaffhausen, Ebnatstrasse 80, 8200 Schaffhausen, Switzerland

Abstract. We conducted a four-year warming × moisture × N-deposition field-experiment (AlpGrass) with 216 turf monoliths from six different subalpine pastures (sites of origin). At a common location, the monoliths were replanted at six climate scenario sites (CS) along an altitudinal gradient from 2360 to 1680 m a.s.l., representing an April–October temperature change of −1.4 °C to +3.0 °C, compared to CSreference with no temperature change and with climate conditions comparable to the sites of origin. We further applied an irrigation treatment (+12–21 % of ambient precipitation) and an N-deposition treatment (+3 kg and +15 kg N ha−1 a−1), the latter simulating a fertilizing air pollution effect.

Moderate warming led to increased productivity. Across the four-year experimental period, the mean annual yield peaked at intermediate CSs (+43 % at +0.7 °C and +44 % at +1.8 °C), coinciding with c. 50 % of days with dry soil during the growing season (growing-season-days with soil moisture < 40 %). The yield increase was smaller at the lowest, warmest CS (+3.0 °C), but was still 12 % larger than at CSreference. Days with dry soil explained the average yield-differences among CSs well. Irrigation had a significant effect on yield (+16–19 %) in dry years, whereas atmospheric N-deposition did not result in a significant yield response. We conclude that productivity of semi-natural, highly diverse subalpine grassland will increase in the near future. Despite increasingly limiting soil water content, plant growth will respond positively to up to +1.8 °C warming during the growing period, corresponding to +1.3 °C annual mean warming.

Matthias Volk et al.

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Matthias Volk et al.

Matthias Volk et al.


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Latest update: 18 Sep 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
In a multi-year field study alpine grassland growth increased with 1.3 °C warming. Even at the maximum warming of 2.4 °C the yield was larger than at the reference site. At the same time −1.7 °C cooling did not reduce growth. Thus, alpine grassland growth has likely not increased during the past century, but, despite growing soil moisture deficits, will do so with continued warming in the near future. Ecosystem services (eg. fodder production, erosion control) will benefit from moderate warming.
In a multi-year field study alpine grassland growth increased with 1.3 °C warming. Even at the...