skip to main content


Title: Earlier snowmelt may lead to late season declines in plant productivity and carbon sequestration in Arctic tundra ecosystems
Abstract Arctic warming is affecting snow cover and soil hydrology, with consequences for carbon sequestration in tundra ecosystems. The scarcity of observations in the Arctic has limited our understanding of the impact of covarying environmental drivers on the carbon balance of tundra ecosystems. In this study, we address some of these uncertainties through a novel record of 119 site-years of summer data from eddy covariance towers representing dominant tundra vegetation types located on continuous permafrost in the Arctic. Here we found that earlier snowmelt was associated with more tundra net CO 2 sequestration and higher gross primary productivity (GPP) only in June and July, but with lower net carbon sequestration and lower GPP in August. Although higher evapotranspiration (ET) can result in soil drying with the progression of the summer, we did not find significantly lower soil moisture with earlier snowmelt, nor evidence that water stress affected GPP in the late growing season. Our results suggest that the expected increased CO 2 sequestration arising from Arctic warming and the associated increase in growing season length may not materialize if tundra ecosystems are not able to continue sequestering CO 2 later in the season.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1932900 1936752
NSF-PAR ID:
10327230
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; more » ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; « less
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Scientific Reports
Volume:
12
Issue:
1
ISSN:
2045-2322
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Soil respiration (i.e. from soils and roots) provides one of the largest global fluxes of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere and is likely to increase with warming, yet the magnitude of soil respiration from rapidly thawing Arctic-boreal regions is not well understood. To address this knowledge gap, we first compiled a new CO2flux database for permafrost-affected tundra and boreal ecosystems in Alaska and Northwest Canada. We then used the CO2database, multi-sensor satellite imagery, and random forest models to assess the regional magnitude of soil respiration. The flux database includes a new Soil Respiration Station network of chamber-based fluxes, and fluxes from eddy covariance towers. Our site-level data, spanning September 2016 to August 2017, revealed that the largest soil respiration emissions occurred during the summer (June–August) and that summer fluxes were higher in boreal sites (1.87 ± 0.67 g CO2–C m−2d−1) relative to tundra (0.94 ± 0.4 g CO2–C m−2d−1). We also observed considerable emissions (boreal: 0.24 ± 0.2 g CO2–C m−2d−1; tundra: 0.18 ± 0.16 g CO2–C m−2d−1) from soils during the winter (November–March) despite frozen surface conditions. Our model estimates indicated an annual region-wide loss from soil respiration of 591 ± 120 Tg CO2–C during the 2016–2017 period. Summer months contributed to 58% of the regional soil respiration, winter months contributed to 15%, and the shoulder months contributed to 27%. In total, soil respiration offset 54% of annual gross primary productivity (GPP) across the study domain. We also found that in tundra environments, transitional tundra/boreal ecotones, and in landscapes recently affected by fire, soil respiration often exceeded GPP, resulting in a net annual source of CO2to the atmosphere. As this region continues to warm, soil respiration may increasingly offset GPP, further amplifying global climate change.

     
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Given the current rates of climate change, with associated shifts in herbivore population densities, understanding the role of different herbivores in ecosystem functioning is critical for predicting ecosystem responses. Here, we examined how migratory geese and resident, non‐migratory reindeer—two dominating yet functionally contrasting herbivores—control vegetation and ecosystem processes in rapidly warming Arctic tundra.

    We collected vegetation and ecosystem carbon (C) flux data at peak plant growing season in the two longest running, fully replicated herbivore removal experiments found in high‐Arctic Svalbard. Experiments had been set up independently in wet habitat utilised by barnacle geeseBranta leucopsisin summer and in moist‐to‐dry habitat utilised by wild reindeerRangifer tarandus platyrhynchusyear‐round.

    Excluding geese induced vegetation state transitions from heavily grazed, moss‐dominated (only 4 g m−2of live above‐ground vascular plant biomass) to ungrazed, graminoid‐dominated (60 g m−2after 4‐year exclusion) and horsetail‐dominated (150 g m−2after 15‐year exclusion) tundra. This caused large increases in vegetation C and nitrogen (N) pools, dead biomass and moss‐layer depth. Alterations in plant N concentration and CN ratio suggest overall slower plant community nutrient dynamics in the short‐term (4‐year) absence of geese. Long‐term (15‐year) goose removal quadrupled net ecosystem C sequestration (NEE) by increasing ecosystem photosynthesis more than ecosystem respiration (ER).

    Excluding reindeer for 21 years also produced detectable increases in live above‐ground vascular plant biomass (from 50 to 80 g m−2; without promoting vegetation state shifts), as well as in vegetation C and N pools, dead biomass, moss‐layer depth and ER. Yet, reindeer removal did not alter the chemistry of plants and soil or NEE.

    Synthesis. Although both herbivores were key drivers of ecosystem structure and function, the control exerted by geese in their main habitat (wet tundra) was much more pronounced than that exerted by reindeer in their main habitat (moist‐to‐dry tundra). Importantly, these herbivore effects are scale dependent, because geese are more spatially concentrated and thereby affect a smaller portion of the tundra landscape compared to reindeer. Our results highlight the substantial heterogeneity in how herbivores shape tundra vegetation and ecosystem processes, with implications for ongoing environmental change.

     
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Snow is critically important to the energy budget, biogeochemistry, ecology, and people of the Arctic. While climate change continues to shorten the duration of the snow cover period, snow mass (the depth of the snow pack) has been increasing in many parts of the Arctic. Previous work has shown that deeper snow can rapidly thaw permafrost and expose the large amounts of ancient (legacy) organic matter contained within it to microbial decomposition. This process releases carbonaceous greenhouse gases but also nutrients, which promote plant growth and carbon sequestration. The net effect of increased snow depth on greenhouse gas emissions from Arctic ecosystems remains uncertain. Here we show that 25 years of snow addition turned tussock tundra, one of the most spatially extensive Arctic ecosystems, into a year‐round source of ancient carbon dioxide. More snow quadrupled the amount of organic matter available to microbial decomposition, much of it previously preserved in permafrost, due to deeper seasonal thaw, soil compaction and subsidence as well as the proliferation of deciduous shrubs that lead to 10% greater carbon uptake during the growing season. However, more snow also sustained warmer soil temperatures, causing greater carbon loss during winter (+200% from October to May) and year‐round. We find that increasing snow mass will accelerate the ongoing transformation of Arctic ecosystems and cause earlier‐than‐expected losses of climate‐warming legacy carbon from permafrost.

     
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Permafrost thaw causes the seasonally thawed active layer to deepen, causing the Arctic to shift toward carbon release as soil organic matter becomes susceptible to decomposition. Ground subsidence initiated by ice loss can cause these soils to collapse abruptly, rapidly shifting soil moisture as microtopography changes and also accelerating carbon and nutrient mobilization. The uncertainty of soil moisture trajectories during thaw makes it difficult to predict the role of abrupt thaw in suppressing or exacerbating carbon losses. In this study, we investigated the role of shifting soil moisture conditions on carbon dioxide fluxes during a 13‐year permafrost warming experiment that exhibited abrupt thaw. Warming deepened the active layer differentially across treatments, leading to variable rates of subsidence and formation of thermokarst depressions. In turn, differential subsidence caused a gradient of moisture conditions, with some plots becoming consistently inundated with water within thermokarst depressions and others exhibiting generally dry, but more variable soil moisture conditions outside of thermokarst depressions. Experimentally induced permafrost thaw initially drove increasing rates of growing season gross primary productivity (GPP), ecosystem respiration (Reco), and net ecosystem exchange (NEE) (higher carbon uptake), but the formation of thermokarst depressions began to reverse this trend with a high level of spatial heterogeneity. Plots that subsided at the slowest rate stayed relatively dry and supported higher CO2fluxes throughout the 13‐year experiment, while plots that subsided very rapidly into the center of a thermokarst feature became consistently wet and experienced a rapid decline in growing season GPP,Reco, and NEE (lower carbon uptake or carbon release). These findings indicate that Earth system models, which do not simulate subsidence and often predict drier active layer conditions, likely overestimate net growing season carbon uptake in abruptly thawing landscapes.

     
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    We examined the seasonality of photosynthesis in 46 evergreen needleleaf (evergreen needleleaf forests (ENF)) and deciduous broadleaf (deciduous broadleaf forests (DBF)) forests across North America and Eurasia. We quantified the onset and end (StartGPPand EndGPP) of photosynthesis in spring and autumn based on the response of net ecosystem exchange of CO2to sunlight. To test the hypothesis that snowmelt is required for photosynthesis to begin, these were compared with end of snowmelt derived from soil temperature. ENF forests achieved 10% of summer photosynthetic capacity ∼3 weeks before end of snowmelt, while DBF forests achieved that capacity ∼4 weeks afterward. DBF forests increased photosynthetic capacity in spring faster (1.95% d−1) than ENF (1.10% d−1), and their active season length (EndGPP–StartGPP) was ∼50 days shorter. We hypothesized that warming has influenced timing of the photosynthesis season. We found minimal evidence for long‐term change in StartGPP, EndGPP, or air temperature, but their interannual anomalies were significantly correlated. Warmer weather was associated with earlier StartGPP(1.3–2.5 days °C−1) or later EndGPP(1.5–1.8 days °C−1, depending on forest type and month). Finally, we tested whether existing phenological models could predict StartGPPand EndGPP. For ENF forests, air temperature‐ and daylength‐based models provided best predictions for StartGPP, while a chilling‐degree‐day model was best for EndGPP. The root mean square errors (RMSE) between predicted and observed StartGPPand EndGPPwere 11.7 and 11.3 days, respectively. For DBF forests, temperature‐ and daylength‐based models yielded the best results (RMSE 6.3 and 10.5 days).

     
    more » « less