MSc thesis: Global change effects on soil decomposition and carbon in alpine grasslands

Project background
Alpine ecosystems provide important ecosystem functions and services such as biodiversity, clean water, grazing pastures and carbon storage. Anthropogenic global change is now threatening alpine ecosystems and the functions it provides for nature and people. In the THREE-D project we study how three global change drivers, including warmer climate, nitrogen deposition and grazing affect alpine grasslands in Norway and China. Warmer climate and nitrogen addition, generally have a negative impact on biodiversity and ecosystem functions, such as carbon cycling. However, grazing at an intermediate level, has the potential to mitigate these negative impacts. To investigate the impact of these global change drivers, we use a large-scale, replicated field experiment, where we transplant plant communities to lower elevation to simulate a warmer climate crossed with nitrogen addition and different levels of grazing. We collect data on plant productivity, plant species composition, decomposition, and soil carbon fluxes to study their response to global change.

Thesis proposal

Question: How does global change impact decomposition and soil carbon stocks in alpine grasslands?
Methods: Alpine soils store a large amount of carbon because processes such as respiration and decomposition are slow. It is therefore important to understand how the processes related to the carbon storage (decomposition, root growth) respond to global change. In spring 2021, we installed tea bags to measure decomposition rate and root ingrowth cores to quantify the root growth of vascular plants in the THREE-D experiment. We expect that warming and nitrogen addition will accelerate root production, while grazing can either repress or promote root growth.

As a Msc student on this project you will collect the tea bags and root ingrowth cores in the field and analyse them in the lab. There will be opportunities to measure different traits like weight, specific root length etc. from the belowground biomass.

As a MSc student working within the THREE-D project, you will:

  • do field and lab work, and learn how to design and conduct ecological experiments, identify and measure plants, manage and analyze ecological data, write it up as a thesis, and present your work in oral presentations within the team and at conferences.
  • be part of the ‘Between The Fjords’ lab group activities
  • be part of a large collaborative international research project, where you will participate in project meetings and workshops online and in person.

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Contact information
Aud Halbritter: