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  1. Abstract

    In recent decades the habitat of North American beaver (Castor canadensis) has expanded from boreal forests into Arctic tundra ecosystems. Beaver ponds in Arctic watersheds are known to alter stream biogeochemistry, which is likely coupled with changes in the activity and composition of microbial communities inhabiting beaver pond sediments. We investigated bacterial, archaeal, and fungal communities in beaver pond sediments along tundra streams in northwestern Alaska (AK), USA and compared them to those of tundra lakes and streams in north‐central Alaska that are unimpacted by beavers.β‐glucosidase activity assays indicated higher cellulose degradation potential in beaver ponds than in unimpacted streams and lakes within a watershed absent of beavers. Beta diversity analyses showed that dominant lineages of bacteria and archaea in beaver ponds differed from those in tundra lakes and streams, but dominant fungal lineages did not differ between these sample types. Beaver pond sediments displayed lower relative abundances of Crenarchaeota and Euryarchaeota archaea and of bacteria from typically anaerobic taxonomic groups, suggesting differences in rates of fermentative organic matter (OM) breakdown, syntrophy, and methane generation. Beaver ponds also displayed low relative abundances of Chytridiomycota (putative non‐symbiotic) fungi and high relative abundances of ectomycorrhizal (plant symbionts) Basidiomycota fungi, suggesting differences in the occurrence of plant and fungi mutualistic interactions. Beaver ponds also featured microbes with taxonomic identities typically associated with the cycling of nitrogen and sulfur compounds in higher relative abundances than tundra lakes and streams. These findings help clarify the microbiological implications of beavers expanding into high latitude regions.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 1, 2024
  2. Abstract

    Beaver engineering in the Arctic tundra induces hydrologic and geomorphic changes that are favorable to methane (CH4) production. Beaver-mediated methane emissions are driven by inundation of existing vegetation, conversion from lotic to lentic systems, accumulation of organic rich sediments, elevated water tables, anaerobic conditions, and thawing permafrost. Ground-based measurements of CH4emissions from beaver ponds in permafrost landscapes are scarce, but hyperspectral remote sensing data (AVIRIS-NG) permit mapping of ‘hotspots’ thought to represent locations of high CH4emission. We surveyed a 429.5 km2area in Northwestern Alaska using hyperspectral airborne imaging spectroscopy at ∼5 m pixel resolution (14.7 million observations) to examine spatial relationships between CH4hotspots and 118 beaver ponds. AVIRIS-NG CH4hotspots covered 0.539% (2.3 km2) of the study area, and were concentrated within 30 m of waterbodies. Comparing beaver ponds to all non-beaver waterbodies (including waterbodies >450 m from beaver-affected water), we found significantly greater CH4hotspot occurrences around beaver ponds, extending to a distance of 60 m. We found a 51% greater CH4hotspot occurrence ratio around beaver ponds relative to nearby non-beaver waterbodies. Dammed lake outlets showed no significant differences in CH4hotspot ratios compared to non-beaver lakes, likely due to little change in inundation extent. The enhancement in AVIRIS-NG CH4hotspots adjacent to beaver ponds is an example of a new disturbance regime, wrought by an ecosystem engineer, accelerating the effects of climate change in the Arctic. As beavers continue to expand into the Arctic and reshape lowland ecosystems, we expect continued wetland creation, permafrost thaw and alteration of the Arctic carbon cycle, as well as myriad physical and biological changes.

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  3. Abstract Beavers were not previously recognized as an Arctic species, and their engineering in the tundra is considered negligible. Recent findings suggest that beavers have moved into Arctic tundra regions and are controlling surface water dynamics, which strongly influence permafrost and landscape stability. Here we use 70 years of satellite images and aerial photography to show the scale and magnitude of northwestward beaver expansion in Alaska, indicated by the construction of over 10,000 beaver ponds in the Arctic tundra. The number of beaver ponds doubled in most areas between ~ 2003 and ~ 2017. Earlier stages of beaver engineering are evident in ~ 1980 imagery, and there is no evidence of beaver engineering in ~ 1952 imagery, consistent with observations from Indigenous communities describing the influx of beavers over the period. Rapidly expanding beaver engineering has created a tundra disturbance regime that appears to be thawing permafrost and exacerbating the effects of climate change. 
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  4. Beavers build dams that change the way water moves between streams, lakes, and the land. In Alaska, beavers are moving north from the forests into the Arctic tundra. When beavers build dams in the Arctic, they cause frozen soil, called permafrost, to thaw. Scientists are studying how beavers and the thawing of permafrost are impacting streams and rivers in Alaska’s national parks. For example, permafrost thaw from beavers can add harmful substances like mercury to streams. Mercury can be taken up by stream food webs, including fish, which then become unhealthy to eat. Permafrost thaw can also move carbon (from dead plants) to beaver ponds. When this carbon decomposes, it can be released from beaver ponds into the air as greenhouse gases, which cause Earth’s climate to warm. Scientists are trying to keep up with these busy beavers to better understand how they are changing Arctic landscapes and Earth’s climate.

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  5. Abstract. Lakes in the Arctic are important reservoirs of heat withmuch lower albedo in summer and greater absorption of solar radiation thansurrounding tundra vegetation. In the winter, lakes that do not freeze totheir bed have a mean annual bed temperature >0 ∘C inan otherwise frozen landscape. Under climate warming scenarios, we expectArctic lakes to accelerate thawing of underlying permafrost due to warmingwater temperatures in the summer and winter. Previous studies of Arcticlakes have focused on ice cover and thickness, the ice decay process,catchment hydrology, lake water balance, and eddy covariance measurements,but little work has been done in the Arctic to model lake heat balance. Weapplied the LAKE 2.0 model to simulate water temperatures in three Arcticlakes in northern Alaska over several years and tested the sensitivity ofthe model to several perturbations of input meteorological variables(precipitation, shortwave radiation, and air temperature) and several modelparameters (water vertical resolution, sediment vertical resolution, depthof soil column, and temporal resolution). The LAKE 2.0 model is aone-dimensional model that explicitly solves vertical profiles of waterstate variables on a grid. We used a combination of meteorological data fromlocal and remote weather stations, as well as data derived from remotesensing, to drive the model. We validated modeled water temperatures withdata of observed lake water temperatures at several depths over severalyears for each lake. Our validation of the LAKE 2.0 model is a necessarystep toward modeling changes in Arctic lake ice regimes, lake heat balance,and thermal interactions with permafrost. The sensitivity analysis shows usthat lake water temperature is not highly sensitive to small changes in airtemperature or precipitation, while changes in shortwave radiation and largechanges in precipitation produced larger effects. Snow depth and lake icestrongly affect water temperatures during the frozen season, which dominatesthe annual thermal regime of Arctic lakes. These findings suggest thatreductions in lake ice thickness and duration could lead to more heatstorage by lakes and enhanced permafrost degradation. 
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  6. Abstract

    The thermal and hydraulic properties of the moss and organic layer regulate energy fluxes, permafrost stability, and hydrologic function in Arctic tundra. Our goal was to quantify evapotranspiration (ET) from dominant vegetation types in Arctic tundra. We designed and deployed a network of electronic automated weighing micro‐lysimeters (n = 58, area = 0.06 m2). We selectively clipped groups of plants from a subset of lysimeters to isolate ET from moss, tussocks, and mixed vascular plants. High rates of evaporation (E) recorded during the study period in the moss E lysimeters (64 mm) and high ET in the tussock ET lysimeters (60 mm) show that mosses and sedge tussocks (Eriophorum vaginatum) are the major constituents of local tundra ET. Moss E was consistently higher than ET from mixed vascular species with moss understory indicating that moss E dominates tundra water efflux at sites with moss understory. The ET partitioning presented here will allow for improved prediction of changes in water flux associated with observed and future vegetation change. Future changes in the composition and cover of mosses and vascular plants will not only alter partitioning of tundra ET but may also affect the significant role plants play in the moisture regime and thermodynamics of Arctic permafrost soils.

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  7. Beavers have established themselves as a key component of low arctic ecosystems over the past several decades. Beavers are widely recognized as ecosystem engineers, but their effects on permafrost-dominated landscapes in the Arctic remain unclear. In this study, we document the occurrence, reconstruct the timing, and highlight the effects of beaver activity on a small creek valley confined by ice-rich permafrost on the Seward Peninsula, Alaska using multi-dimensional remote sensing analysis of satellite (Landsat-8, Sentinel-2, Planet CubeSat, and DigitalGlobe Inc./MAXAR) and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) imagery. Beaver activity along the study reach of Swan Lake Creek appeared between 2006 and 2011 with the construction of three dams. Between 2011 and 2017, beaver dam numbers increased, with the peak occurring in 2017 (n = 9). Between 2017 and 2019, the number of dams decreased (n = 6), while the average length of the dams increased from 20 to 33 m. Between 4 and 20 August 2019, following a nine-day period of record rainfall (>125 mm), the well-established dam system failed, triggering the formation of a beaver-induced permafrost degradation feature. During the decade of beaver occupation between 2011 and 2021, the creek valley widened from 33 to 180 m (~450% increase) and the length of the stream channel network increased from ~0.6 km to more than 1.9 km (220% increase) as a result of beaver engineering and beaver-induced permafrost degradation. Comparing vegetation (NDVI) and snow (NDSI) derived indices from Sentinel-2 time-series data acquired between 2017 and 2021 for the beaver-induced permafrost degradation feature and a nearby unaffected control site, showed that peak growing season NDVI was lowered by 23% and that it extended the length of the snow-cover period by 19 days following the permafrost disturbance. Our analysis of multi-dimensional remote sensing data highlights several unique aspects of beaver engineering impacts on ice-rich permafrost landscapes. Our detailed reconstruction of the beaver-induced permafrost degradation event may also prove useful for identifying degradation of ice-rich permafrost in optical time-series datasets across regional scales. Future field- and remote sensing-based observations of this site, and others like it, will provide valuable information for the NSF-funded Arctic Beaver Observation Network (A-BON) and the third phase of the NASA Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) Field Campaign. 
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  8. null (Ed.)
    Deciduous shrubs are expanding across the graminoid-dominated nutrient-poor arctic tundra. Absorptive root traits of shrubs are key determinants of nutrient acquisition strategy from tundra soils, but the variations of shrub root traits within and among common shrub genera across the arctic climatic gradient are not well resolved. Consequently, the impacts of arctic shrub expansion on belowground nutrient cycling remain largely unclear. Here, we collected roots from 170 plots of three commonly distributed shrub genera ( Alnus , Betula , and Salix ) and a widespread sedge ( Eriophorum vaginatum ) along a climatic gradient in northern Alaska. Absorptive root traits that are relevant to the strategy of plant nutrient acquisition were determined. The influence of aboveground dominant vegetation cover on the standing root biomass, root productivity, vertical rooting profile, as well as the soil nitrogen (N) pool in the active soil layer was examined. We found consistent root trait variation among arctic plant genera along the sampling transect. Alnus and Betula had relatively thicker and less branched, but more frequently ectomycorrhizal colonized absorptive roots than Salix , suggesting complementarity between root efficiency and ectomycorrhizal dependence among the co-existing shrubs. Shrub-dominated plots tended to have more productive absorptive roots than sedge-dominated plots. At the northern sites, deep absorptive roots (>20 cm depth) were more frequent in birch-dominated plots. We also found shrub roots extensively proliferated into the adjacent sedge-dominated plots. The soil N pool in the active layer generally decreased from south to north but did not vary among plots dominated by different shrub or sedge genera. Our results reveal diverse nutrient acquisition strategies and belowground impacts among different arctic shrubs, suggesting that further identifying the specific shrub genera in the tundra landscape will ultimately provide better predictions of belowground dynamics across the changing arctic. 
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