Experimental warming and antecedent fire alter leaf element composition and increase soil C:N ratio in sub-alpine open heathland Academic Article uri icon


  • Plant communities in alpine ecosystems worldwide are being altered by climate warming. In the alpine open heathland of the Bogong High Plains, Australia, warming and fire have affected the growth and phenology of plants, and have recently been found to alter soil nutrient availability. We examined the effects of nine years of passive warming by open-top chambers and nine years post-fire on (i) the soluble and extractable nutrients and toxic elements available for plant uptake in the soil and (ii) on the element composition of leaves of seven dominant sub-alpine open heathland plants. Warming increased soil C, soil C:N, and decreased soil δ13C, indicating an accumulation of soil organic matter and C sequestration. Warming increased soil δ15N, indicating increased N mineralization, which concurred with the increased availability of NH4+ (measured by ion-exchange membranes). Leaf element composition varied among the plant species in response to changes in soil element availabilities, suggesting the importance of species-specific knowledge. Warming decreased leaf N concentration and increased leaf C:N, generally in the plant community, and specifically in Asterolasia trymalioides, Carex breviculmis, Poa hiemata, and Rytidosperma nudiflorum. Warming increased soil P availability, but did not significantly affect leaf P in any species. Antecedent fire increased soil C:N, and decreased concentrations of Ca and Mg in Celmisia pugioniformis more than in the other species. The results suggest that warming and fire changed the nutrient composition of plants and increased soil C:N, which might lead to progressive N limitation in the alpine ecosystem.

publication date

  • 2017