Effects of Tree Canopy Structure and Understory Vegetation on the Effectiveness of Open-Top-Chamber in Manipulating Boreal Forest Microclimate

Friday, 19 December 2014
Laurenz Michael Teuber1, Marie-Charlotte Nilsson2, David Wardle2 and Ellen Dorrepaal1, (1)Umeå University, Climate Impacts Research Center, Umeå, Sweden, (2)SLU Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Umeå, Umeå, Sweden
Open-top chambers (OTCs) are widely used to passively increase soil and air temperature in various open habitats, such as alpine and arctic tundra, and temperate grasslands. Several studies report warming effects of 1-2 °C in arctic and alpine tundra, and up to 6 °C in temperate grasslands. The variation between studies can be mostly attributed to differences in the abiotic environment, such as snow cover and solar irradiance. Vegetation height and openness affects the amount of irradiance that reaches the ground and may therefore indirectly impact the effectiveness of OTCs. The use of OTCs in forested ecosystems might therefore be limited by reduced canopy openness, while their effect on changes in soil temperature and soil moisture content might additionally be affected by the understory vegetation type and cover. Nevertheless, OTC’s are an immensely useful tool in climate-change studies, and could benefit research in forest ecosystems. In this study we therefore investigated whether OTCs can be used to manipulate microclimate in the northern boreal forest and how tree canopy cover and understory vegetation influence OTC effects on air and soil temperature and on soil moisture content.
We compared OTC effects at ten sites that were situated along a fire chronosequence in the northern boreal forest in Sweden. Sites were dominated by Pinus sylvestris and Picea abies, and time since the last fire ranged from 47-367 years, resulting in varying degrees of tree canopy openness. We applied full factorial combinations of OTC warming and dwarf shrub removal and moss removal at each site. We measured canopy cover using hemispherical photography; air and soil temperature as well as soil moisture were measured hourly from June until September. Preliminary analyses indicate that OTCs increased monthly mean air temperatures by up to 0.9 °C across all treatments and forest stands. However, the degree of warming showed clear relations with the presence or absence of the understory vegetation and tree canopy cover. Our results show that OTCs can be used effectively in boreal forest ecosystems and will help design future experiments that will investigate effects of a changing climate on vegetation and soil processes.