Root phenology unresponsive to earlier snowmelt despite advanced aboveground phenology in two subarctic plant communities

Gesche Blume-Werry, Roland Jansson, Ann Milbau

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1. Earlier snowmelt at high latitudes advances above-ground plant phenology, thereby affecting water, nutrient and carbon cycles. Despite the key role of fine roots in these ecosystem processes, phenological responses to earlier snowmelt have never been assessed below-ground.
2. We experimentally advanced snowmelt in two contrasting plant community types (heath and meadow) in northern Sweden and measured above- and below-ground phenology (leaf-out, flowering and fine root growth). We expected earlier snowmelt to advance both above- and belowground phenology, and shrub-dominated heath to be more responsive than meadow.
3. Snow melted on average 9 days earlier in the manipulated plots than in controls, and soil temperatures were on average 0,9 °C higher during the snowmelt period of 3 weeks. This resulted in small advances in above-ground phenology, but contrary to our expectations, root phenology was unresponsive, with root growth generally starting before leaf-out. These responses to the snowmelt treatment were similar in both plant community types, despite strong differences in dominating plant functional types and root properties, such as root length and turnover.
4. The lack of a response in root phenology, despite warmer soil temperatures and aboveground phenological advances, adds evidence that above-ground plant responses might not be directly translated to below-ground plant responses, and that our understanding of factors driving below-ground phenology is still limited, although of major importance for water, nutrient and carbon cycling
Original languageEnglish
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)1493-1502
Publication statusPublished - 5-Jul-2017

Thematic list

  • Climate


  • Climate policy (inc. Biomass energy with carbon capture and storage)

Geographic list

  • Scandinavia

Free keywords

  • alpine, arctic, climate change, fine roots, phenology, root growth, root production, snowmelt


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