Plant and Soil

, Volume 408, Issue 1–2, pp 183–193 | Cite as

The legacy of climate change effects: previous drought increases short-term litter decomposition rates in a temperate mixed grass- and shrubland

  • Merian Skouw Haugwitz
  • Anders Michelsen
  • Anders Priemé
Regular Article



Fungi play a central role in litter decomposition, a key process controlling the terrestrial carbon cycle and nutrient availability for plants and microorganisms. Climate change and elevated CO2 affect soil fungi, but the relative importance of the global change variables for litter decomposition is still uncertain. The main objective was therefore to assess the short-term litter decomposition and associated fungal community in a global change manipulated temperate heath ecosystem.


The heath had been exposed to 6 years of warming, elevated atmospheric CO2 and an extended pre-summer drought. Litterbags with litter from heather (Calluna vulgaris) and wavy-hair grass (Deschampsia flexuosa) were incubated in the litter layer for 6 months, where after we analyzed the litter-associated fungal community, litter loss, CO2 respiration, and total content of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus.


Elevated temperature tended to increase litter decomposition rates, whereas elevated CO2 had no effect on the process. The pre-summer drought treatment had a positive impact on litter decomposition, CO2 respiration and fungal abundance in the litterbags, although we observed no major changes in fungal community composition.


The drought treatment during pre-summer had a legacy effect on litter decomposition as decomposition rates were positively affected later in the year. The community structure of litter-decomposing fungi was not affected by the drought treatment. Hence, the legacy effect was not mediated by a change in the fungal community structure.


Drought Elevated atmospheric CO2 Increased temperature Fungal community composition Litter degradation Litter mass loss 



This study was carried out within the CLIMAITE project, financially supported by the Villum Kann Rasmussen Foundation. We thank Karin Vestberg, Esben V. Nielsen and Anette Hørdum Løth for excellent technical assistance.

Supplementary material

11104_2016_2913_MOESM1_ESM.docx (13 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 15 kb)
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ESM 2 Fig. S1 The CLIMAITE experimental site; a) A schematic of the global change treatments with each block consisting of two octagons: one with ambient CO2 and one with elevated CO2. Each octagon includes the treatments drought (−H2O), warming (+T) and the combination plus either an ambient “control plot” or an elevated CO2 plot. In total, there are 12 octagons at the experimental site giving 48 plots. b) Picture of the vegetation density at the CLIMAITE experimental site in October 2011. The dominant plant species are Calluna vulgaris and Deschampsia flexuoxa. (PNG 21290 kb)
11104_2016_2913_Fig4_ESM.gif (8.1 mb)

Fig. S2 Weekly averages of climatic data from 2011 at the CLIMAITE experimental site; a) Soil water content (vol.% in 0–20 cm soil depth) in plots without pre-summer drought treatment (filled triangles) and plots with pre-summer drought treatment (open triangles). Daily precipitation (mm) is shown in light-grey bars; b) Soil surface temperature in plots without temperature treatment (filled circles) and plots with temperature treatment (open circles). (GIF 64 kb)

11104_2016_2913_MOESM3_ESM.eps (246 kb)
High Resolution Image (EPS 246 kb)
11104_2016_2913_Fig5_ESM.gif (60 kb)

Fig. S3 The relationship between litter loss (%) and fungal ITS copy number (g−1 soil) after six months of incubation of litterbags in the global change experiment CLIMIATE. Each filled circle represents one sample (n = 48). (GIF 15 kb)

11104_2016_2913_MOESM4_ESM.eps (73 kb)
High Resolution Image (EPS 72 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Merian Skouw Haugwitz
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Anders Michelsen
    • 1
  • Anders Priemé
    • 2
  1. 1.Terrestrial Ecology Section, Department of BiologyUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen ØDenmark
  2. 2.Section of Microbiology, Department of BiologyUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen ØDenmark
  3. 3.Center for Permafrost (CENPERM), Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource ManagementUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen KDenmark

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