Effects of Winter Climate Change on Plant and Soil Ecology of Cryoturbated Non-Sorted Circles Tundra
Abstract:Cryoturbation is the movement of soil particles through repeated freeze-thaw events, resulting in the burial of large amounts of soil organic carbon (SOC). Non-sorted circles are a common type of cryoturbated ground in arctic and alpine areas underlain by permafrost. They appear as sparsely vegetated areas surrounded by denser tundra vegetation. Climate change in arctic environments will likely increase winter precipitation in large parts of the Arctic in Europe, Asia and America, resulting in deeper snow cover. Snow is a good thermal insulator and modifications in freezing intensity and freeze-thaw cycles are therefore likely, which could affect the burial of organic matter. Moreover, vegetation, soil fauna and soil microbial communities, which are important drivers of SOC dynamics, may be impacted directly by the altered winter conditions and indirectly by reduced cryoturbation. We aimed to investigate this, and therefore subjected non-sorted circles in North-Swedish subarctic alpine tundra to two years of increased thermal insulation in winter and spring, using snow fences or fibre cloth (Figure 1).
Both snow fences and fibre cloth manipulations increased surface soil temperatures, especially daily minimum temperatures, and strongly reduced freeze-thaw frequency. We compared the impacts of these manipulations on plant performance, soil chemistry, soil fauna and soil microbial communities between the centre of the circles and the dense tundra heath just outside. Directly after snowmelt, the extra winter insulation decreased plant leaf damage, both in the centre and in adjacent tundra, but responses differed between species. We will further present the responses of plant phenology and growth, soil pH and dissolved organic carbon content, soil fauna activity, Collembola community composition and body size distribution, as well as fungal and bacterial diversity profiles and functional groups abundance.
We expect that winter warming due to increased snow cover and its effects on cryoturbation will stimulate the biotic components of non-sorted circles, but may change the interactions between organisms at different trophic levels of this ecosystem. The resulting new balance between increased productivity and decomposer activity might have large implications for this important carbon pool.