Impacts of freezing and thawing dynamics on foliar litter carbon release in alpine/subalpine forests along an altitudinal gradient in the eastern Tibetan Plateau
Carbon (C) release from foliar litter is a primary component in C exchange among the atmosphere, vegetation, soil and water from respiration and leaching, but little information is currently related to the effects of freezing and thawing dynamics on C release of foliar litter in cold regions. A 2-year field litter decomposition experiment was conducted along an altitudinal gradient (~ 2700 to ~ 3600 m) to mimic temperature increases in the eastern Tibetan Plateau. C release was investigated for fresh foliar litter of spruce, fir and birch. The onset of the frozen stage, deep frozen stage and thawing stage was partitioned according to changes in the freezing and thawing dynamics of each winter. More rapid 2-year C released from fresh foliar litter at upper elevations compared to lower elevations in the alpine/subalpine region. However, high C release was observed at low altitudes during winter stages, but high altitudes exhibited high C release during growing season stages. The deep frozen stage showed higher rates of C release than other stages in the second year of decomposition. Negative-degree days showing freezing degrees were correlated to C release rates for the deep frozen stages in both years, and this relationship continued for the duration of the experiment, indicating that changes in freezing can directly modify C release from foliar litter. The results suggested that the changed freezing and thawing dynamics could delay the onset of C release in fresh litter in this cold region in the scenario of climate warming.