Winter warming is ecologically more relevant than summer warming in a cool-temperate grassland
Climate change affects all seasons, but warming is more pronounced in winter than summer at mid- and high latitudes. Winter warming can have profound ecological effects, which are rarely compared to the effects of summer warming, and causal explanations are not well established. We compared mild aboveground infrared warming in winter to warming in summer in a semi-natural, cool-temperate grassland in Germany for four years. Aboveground plant biomass increased following winter warming (+18%) and was unaffected by summer warming. Winter warming affected the composition of the plant community more than summer warming, favoring productive species. Winter warming increased soil respiration more than summer warming. Prolonged growing seasons and changes in plant-community composition accounted for the increased aboveground biomass production. Winter warming stimulated ecological processes, despite causing frost damage to plant roots and microorganisms during an extremely cold period when warming reduced the thermal insulation provided by snow. Future warming beyond such intermittent frosts may therefore further increase the accelerating effects of winter warming on ecological processes.