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The Snow Must Go On: Ground Ice Encasement, Snow Compaction and Absence of Snow Differently Cause Soil Hypoxia, CO2 Accumulation and Tree Seedling Damage in Boreal Forest

The Snow Must Go On: Ground Ice Encasement, Snow Compaction and Absence of Snow Differently Cause Soil Hypoxia, CO2 Accumulation and Tree Seedling Damage in Boreal Forest

Plos One 11(6): E0156620-E0156620

At high latitudes, the climate has warmed at twice the rate of the global average with most changes observed in autumn, winter and spring. Increasing winter temperatures and wide temperature fluctuations are leading to more frequent rain-on-snow events and freeze-thaw cycles causing snow compaction and formation of ice layers in the snowpack, thus creating ice encasement (IE). By decreasing the snowpack insulation capacity and restricting soil-atmosphere gas exchange, modification of the snow properties may lead to colder soil but also to hypoxia and accumulation of trace gases in the subnivean environment. To test the effects of these overwintering conditions changes on plant winter survival and growth, we established a snow manipulation experiment in a coniferous forest in Northern Finland with Norway spruce and Scots pine seedlings. In addition to ambient conditions and prevention of IE, we applied three snow manipulation levels: IE created by artificial rain-on-snow events, snow compaction and complete snow removal. Snow removal led to deeper soil frost during winter, but no clear effect of IE or snow compaction done in early winter was observed on soil temperature. Hypoxia and accumulation of CO2 were highest in the IE plots but, more importantly, the duration of CO2 concentration above 5% was 17 days in IE plots compared to 0 days in ambient plots. IE was the most damaging winter condition for both species, decreasing the proportion of healthy seedlings by 47% for spruce and 76% for pine compared to ambient conditions. Seedlings in all three treatments tended to grow less than seedlings in ambient conditions but only IE had a significant effect on spruce growth. Our results demonstrate a negative impact of winter climate change on boreal forest regeneration and productivity. Changing snow conditions may thus partially mitigate the positive effect of increasing growing season temperatures on boreal forest productivity.

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Accession: 059032157

Download citation: RISBibTeXText

PMID: 27254100

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0156620

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