Letter | Published:

Boreal forest biomass accumulation is not increased by two decades of soil warming

Nature Climate Changevolume 9pages4952 (2019) | Download Citation


Increased soil organic matter decomposition with increasing temperature has been hypothesized to enhance soil nitrogen availability, consequently stimulating forest biomass production and offsetting decomposition-induced soil carbon losses1,2,3,4,5. This projection, however, is based on evidence gathered from short-term studies (≤10 years)2,3,5. The key question for carbon sequestration is whether such responses are transient or persist over long forest rotation periods. Here we report on biomass production in a typical nitrogen-limited boreal Picea abies forest, exposed to 18 years of soil warming manipulation (+5 °C) at a plot scale (100 m2). We show that two decades of soil warming elicited only short-duration growth responses, thus not significantly increasing aboveground biomass accumulation. Furthermore, in combination with published work from this forest, our results suggest that increased decomposition is slight and ephemeral, and increased fine root production and turnover in deeper soil may be greater than increased decomposition, netting slightly more biomass, perhaps conserving the soil carbon stock. Thus, this long-term study does not support the notion that the projected increase in soil temperatures will cause either an increased carbon loss with decomposition or a compensatory growth increase from nitrogen mineralization.

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The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding authors upon request.

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Change history

  • 23 January 2019

    In the version of the Supplementary Information file originally published with this Letter, ref. 42 — Andersson, P., Berggren, D. & Nilsson, I. Indices for nitrogen status and nitrate leaching from Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) stands in Sweden. For. Ecol. Manag. 157, 39–53 (2002) — should have appeared as a footnote to Supplementary Table 2; this has now been added.


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This study received support from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (MISTRA), the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (VINNOVA), The Swedish Council of Forestry and Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (FORMAS) and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (no. 2015.0047). Financial support for R.O. was provided by the Erkko Visiting Professor Programme, through the University of Helsinki. We especially thank Svartberget Field Station for providing staff for fieldwork.

Author information


  1. Department of Forest Ecology and Management, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Umeå, Sweden

    • Hyungwoo Lim
    • , Torgny Näsholm
    • , Tomas Lundmark
    •  & Harald Grip
  2. Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

    • Ram Oren
  3. Department of Forest Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

    • Ram Oren
  4. Department of Soil and Environment, SLU, Uppsala, Sweden

    • Monika Strömgren
  5. Southern Swedish Forest Research Centre, SLU, Alnarp, Sweden

    • Sune Linder


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S.L. established the experiment in 1994, and designed the present study together with H.L, T.N. and R.O. H.G. collected and analysed the water from the lysimeters. H.L. performed all of the final fieldwork. H.L. and R.O. processed the data, crafted the argument and wrote the paper with input from T.N., S.L., M.S. and T.L. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript at all stages.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Hyungwoo Lim or Ram Oren.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Tables 1–3, Supplementary Figures 1–2

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