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Temperature optimum for marsh resilience and carbon accumulation revealed in a whole ecosystem warming experiment

March 3, 2022

Coastal marshes are globally important, carbon dense ecosystems simultaneously maintained and threatened by sea-level rise. Warming temperatures may increase wetland plant productivity and organic matter accumulation, but temperature-modulated feedbacks between productivity and decomposition make it difficult to assess how wetlands and their thick, organic rich soils will respond to climate warming. Here, we actively increased aboveground plant-surface and below-ground soil temperatures in two marsh plant communities, and found that a moderate amount of warming (1.7°C above ambient temperatures) consistently maximized root growth, marsh elevation gain, and below-ground carbon accumulation. Marsh elevation loss observed at higher temperatures was associated with increased carbon mineralization and increased microtopographic heterogeneity, a potential early warning signal of marsh drowning. Maximized elevation and below-ground carbon accumulation for moderate warming scenarios uniquely suggest linkages between metabolic theory of individuals and landscape-scale ecosystem resilience and function, but our work indicates nonpermanent benefits as global temperatures continue to rise.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Temperature optimum for marsh resilience and carbon accumulation revealed in a whole ecosystem warming experiment
DOI 10.1111/gcb.16149
Authors Alexander J. Smith, Genevieve L. Noyce, J. Patrick Megonigal, Glenn R. Guntenspergen, Matthew L. Kirwan
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Global Change Biology
Series Number
Index ID 70229516
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center