Arctic warming and permafrost degradation are modifying northern ecosystems through changes in microtopography, soil water dynamics, nutrient availability, and vegetation succession. Upon permafrost degradation, the release of deep stores of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, from newly thawed permafrost stimulates Arctic vegetation production. More specifically, wetter lowlands show an increase in sedges (as part of graminoids), whereas drier uplands favor shrub expansion. These shifts in the composition of vegetation may influence local mineral element cycling through litter production. In this study, we evaluate the influence of permafrost degradation on mineral element foliar stocks and potential annual fluxes upon litterfall. We measured the foliar elemental composition (Al, Ca, Fe, K, Mn, P, S, Si, and Zn) of ∼500 samples of typical tundra plant species from two contrasting Alaskan tundra sites, i.e., an experimental sedge-dominated site (Carbon in Permafrost Experimental Heating Research, CiPEHR) and natural shrub-dominated site (Gradient). The foliar concentration of these mineral elements was species specific, with sedge leaves having relatively high Si concentration and shrub leaves having relatively high Ca and Mn concentrations. Therefore, changes in the species biomass composition of the Arctic tundra in response to permafrost thaw are expected to be the main factors that dictate changes in elemental composition of foliar stocks and maximum potential foliar fluxes upon litterfall. We observed an increase in the mineral element foliar stocks and potential annual litterfall fluxes, with Si increasing with sedge expansion in wetter sites (CiPEHR), and Ca and Mn increasing with shrub expansion in drier sites (Gradient). Consequently, we expect that sedge and shrub expansion upon permafrost thaw will lead to changes in litter elemental composition and therefore affect nutrient cycling across the sub-Arctic tundra with potential implications for further vegetation succession.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Earth-Surface Processes