There has been growing recent use of elevational gradients as tools for assessing effects of temperature changes on vegetation properties, because these gradients enable temperature effects to be considered over larger spatial and temporal scales than is possible through conventional experiments. While many studies have explored the direct effects of temperature, the indirect effects of temperature through its long-term influence on soil abiotic or biotic properties remain essentially unexplored. We performed two climate chamber experiments using soils from a subarctic elevational gradient in Abisko, Sweden to investigate the direct effects of temperature, and indirect effects of temperature via soil legacies, on growth of two grass species. The soils were collected from each of two vegetation types (heath, dominated by dwarf shrubs, and meadow, dominated by graminoids and herbs) at each of three elevations. We found that plants responded to both the direct effect of temperature and its indirect effect via soil legacies, and that direct and indirect effects were largely decoupled. Vegetation type was a major determinant of plant responses to both the direct and indirect effects of temperature; responses to soils from increasing elevation were stronger and showed a more linear decline for meadow than for heath soils. The influence of soil biota on plant growth was independent of elevation, with a positive influence across all elevations regardless of soil origin for meadow soils but not for heath soils. Taken together, this means that responses of plant growth to soil legacy effects of temperature across the elevational gradient were driven primarily by soil abiotic, and not biotic, factors. These findings emphasize that vegetation type is a strong determinant of how temperature variation across elevational gradients impacts on plant growth, and highlight the need for considering both direct and indirect effects of temperature on plant responses to future climate change.
De Long, J. R., Kardol, P., Sundqvist, M. K., Veen, G. F., & Wardle, D. A. (2015). Plant growth response to direct and indirect temperature effects varies by vegetation type and elevation in a subarctic tundra. Oikos, 124(6), 772-783. https://doi.org/10.1111/oik.01764