Shrub expansion modulates belowground impacts of changing snow conditions in alpine grasslands

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

  • External authors:
  • Michael Bahn
  • William Pritchard
  • Lindsay Newbold
  • Tim Goodall
  • Andrew Guinta
  • Helen Snell
  • Antonios Michas
  • Helen K. Grant
  • David X. Soto
  • Rüdiger Kaufmann
  • Michael Schloter
  • Robert I. Griffiths


Climate change is disproportionately impacting mountain ecosystems, leading to large reductions in winter snow cover, earlier spring snowmelt and widespread shrub expansion into alpine grasslands. Yet, the combined effects of shrub expansion and changing snow conditions on abiotic and biotic soil properties remains poorly understood. We used complementary field experiments to show that reduced snow cover and earlier snowmelt have effects on soil microbial communities and functioning that persist into summer. However, ericaceous shrub expansion modulates a number of these impacts and has stronger belowground effects than changing snow conditions. Ericaceous shrub expansion did not alter snow depth or snowmelt timing, but did increase the abundance of ericoid mycorrhizal fungi and oligotrophic bacteria, which was linked to decreased soil respiration and nitrogen availability. Our findings suggest that changing winter snow conditions have cross-seasonal impacts on soil properties, but shifts in vegetation can modulate belowground effects of future alpine climate change.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-64
Number of pages13
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2021