Above and below ground carbon stocks in northeast Siberia tundra ecosystems: a comparison between disturbed and undisturbed areas

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Luis R Weber1, Homero Pena III2, Salvatore Rex Curasi3, Erika Ramos2, Michael M Loranty3, Heather Dawn Alexander2 and Susan Natali4, (1)University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras Campus, Department of Environmental Sciences, Cidra, PR, United States, (2)University of Texas at Brownsville, Brownsville, TX, United States, (3)Colgate University, Geography, Hamilton, NY, United States, (4)Woods Hole Science Center Falmouth, Falmouth, MA, United States
Changes in arctic tundra vegetation have the potential to alter the regional carbon (C) budget, with feedback implications for global climate. A number of studies have documented both widespread increases in productivity as well as shifts in the dominant vegetation. In particular, shrubs have been replacing other vegetation, such as graminoids, in response to changes in their environment. Shrub expansion is thought to be facilitated by exposure of mineral soil and increased nutrient availability, which are often associated with disturbance. Such disturbances can be naturally occurring, typically associated with permafrost degradation or with direct anthropogenic causes such as infrastructure development. Mechanical disturbance associated with human development is not uncommon in tundra and will likely become more frequent as warming makes the Arctic more hospitable for resource extraction and other human activities. As such, this type of disturbance will become an increasingly important component of tundra C balance. Both increased productivity and shrub expansion have clear impacts on ecosystem C cycling through increased C uptake and aboveground (AG) storage. What is less clear, however, are the concurrent changes in belowground (BG) C storage. Here we inventoried AG and BG C stocks in disturbed and undisturbed tundra ecosystems to determine the effects of disturbance on tundra C balance.

We measured differences in plant functional type, AG and BG biomass, soil C, and specific leaf area (SLA) for the dominant shrub (Salix) in 2 tundra ecosystems in northern Siberia—an undisturbed moist acidic tundra and an adjacent ecosystem that was used as a road ~50 years ago. Deciduous shrubs and grasses dominated both ecosystems, but biomass for both functional types was higher in the disturbed area. SLA was also higher inside the disturbance. Conversely, nonvascular plants and evergreen shrubs were less abundant in the disturbed area. BG plant biomass was substantially greater than AG biomass. On average, soil C pool in organic and mineral soils was higher in the disturbed areas. Our results illustrate changes in ecosystem structure and function associated with disturbance that may become increasingly important with continued climate warming and subsequent human activity in the Arctic.