A Greener Arctic: Vascular Plant Litter Input in Subarctic Peat Bogs Changes Soil Invertebrate Diets and Decomposition Patterns

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Eveline J. Krab1,2, Matty P. Berg2, Rien Aerts2, Richard S.P. van Logtestijn2 and Johannes H.C. Cornelissen2, (1)Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden, (2)VU University Amsterdam, Ecological Sciences, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Climate-change-induced trends towards shrub dominance in subarctic, moss-dominated peatlands will most likely have large effects on soil carbon (C) dynamics through an input of more easily decomposable litter. The mechanisms by which this increase in vascular litter input interacts with the abundance and diet-choice of the decomposer community to alter C-processing have, however, not yet been unraveled. We used a novel 13C tracer approach to link invertebrate species composition (Collembola), abundance and species-specific feeding behavior to C-processing of vascular and peat moss litters. We incubated different litter mixtures, 100% Sphagnum moss litter, 100% Betula leaf litter, and a 50/50 mixture of both, in mesocosms for 406 days. We revealed the transfer of C from the litters to the soil invertebrate species by 13C labeling of each of the litter types and assessed 13C signatures of the invertebrates

Collembola species composition differed significantly between Sphagnum and Betula litter. Within the ‘single type litter’ mesocosms, Collembola species showed different 13C signatures, implying species-specific differences in diet choice. Surprisingly, the species composition and Collembola abundance changed relatively little as a consequence of Betula input to a Sphagnum based system. Their diet choice, however, changed drastically; species-specific differences in diet choice disappeared and approximately 67% of the food ingested by all Collembola originated from Betula litter. Furthermore, litter decomposition patterns corresponded to these findings; mass loss of Betula increased from 16.1% to 26.2% when decomposing in combination with Sphagnum, while Sphagnum decomposed even slower in combination with Betula litter (1.9%) than alone (4.7%).

This study is the first to empirically show that collective diet shifts of the peatland decomposer community from mosses towards vascular plant litter may drive altered decomposition patterns. In addition, we showed that although species-specific differences in Collembola feeding behavior appear to exist, species are very plastic in their diet. This implies that changes in C turnover rates with vegetation shifts, might well be due to diet shifts of the present decomposer community rather than by changes in species composition.