Climate change leads to higher NPP at the end of the century in the Antarctic Tundra: Response patterns through the lens of lichens

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Beltrán Sanz, Nuria
Raggio Quilez, José
Gonzalez, Sergi
Prost, Stefan
Green, Allan
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Poikilohydric autotrophs are the main colonizers of the permanent ice-free areas in the Antarctic tundra biome. Global climate warming and the small human footprint in this ecosystem make it especially vulnerable to abrupt changes. Elucidating the effects of climate change on the Antarctic ecosystem is challenging because it mainly comprises poikilohydric species, which are greatly influenced by microtopographic factors. In the present study, we investigated the potential effects of climate change on the metabolic activity and net primary photosynthesis (NPP) in the widespread lichen species Usnea aurantiaco-atra. Long-term monitoring of chlorophyll a fluorescence in the field was combined with photosynthetic performance measurements in laboratory experiments in order to establish the daily response patterns under biotic and abiotic factors at micro- and macro-scales. Our findings suggest that macroclimate is a poor predictor of NPP, thereby indicating that microclimate is the main driver due to the strong effects of microtopographic factors on cryptogams. Metabolic activity is also crucial for estimating the NPP, which is highly dependent on the type, distribution, and duration of the hydration sources available throughout the year. Under RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5, metabolic activity will increase slightly compared with that at present due to the increased precipitation events predicted in MIROC5. Temperature is highlighted as the main driver for NPP projections, and thus climate warming will lead to an average increase in NPP of 167–171% at the end of the century. However, small changes in other drivers such as light and relative humidity may strongly modify the metabolic activity patterns of poikilohydric autotrophs, and thus their NPP. Species with similar physiological response ranges to the species investigated in the present study are expected to behave in a similar manner provided that liquid water is available.
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