Mapping Microbial Carbon Substrate Utilization Across Permafrost Thaw
Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Permafrost thaw is likely to create a substantial positive feedback to climate warming, as previously frozen carbon becomes bioavailable and is released to the atmosphere. Microbes mediate this release, while also consuming “new” carbon from plant inputs and middle-aged soil carbon pools in the seasonally-thawed active layer overlying permafrost. This carbon consumption releases carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), both potent greenhouse gases. To investigate microbial carbon cycling in this changing habitat, we examined how microbial communities’ carbon substrate degradation changes along a natural permafrost thaw gradient in Stordalen Mire (68.35°N, 19.05°E), northern Sweden. At this location, intermediate thaw creates Sphagnum moss-dominated bogs, while complete thaw results in Eriophorum sedge-dominated fens. The progression of thaw results in increasing organic matter lability (Hodgkins et al, 2014), shifting microbial community composition (Mondav & Woodcroft et al 2014), and changing carbon gas emissions (McCalley et al, in review). However, the inter-relationship of the first two in producing the third remains unclear. We analyzed microbial carbon substrate utilization in the intermediate-thaw and full-thaw sites by two incubation-based methods. We used Biolog EcoPlates, which contain 31 ecologically relevant carbon substrates and a colorimetric marker of their consumption, and into which we added a soil liquid suspension. In addition, we performed mason-jar incubations of peat with carbon substrate amendments and measured CH4 and CO2 emissions. Preliminary Biolog Ecoplate incubations showed that intermediate-thaw features responded faster and more strongly overall to a wide range of substrates relative to the full-thaw features. Preliminary mason jar incubations showed that acetate amendment elicited the greatest response increase in CH4 production and the second greatest increase in CO2 production relative to the controls, in samples from both habitats. In addition, the lowest CH4 and CO2 production was seen in amendments of sphagnum acid. It is important to understand the carbon substrate utilization occurring at these initial and advanced thaw features to speculate the degree to which various carbon inputs are being metabolized to produce the observed gas emissions.