Distinct Growth Responses of Tundra Soil Bacteria to Short-Term and Long-Term Warming

Jeffrey R. Propster, Egbert Schwartz, Michaela Hayer, Samantha Miller, Victoria Monsaint-Queeney, Benjamin J. Koch, Ember M. Morrissey, Michelle C. Mack, Bruce A. Hungate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Increases in Arctic temperatures have thawed permafrost and accelerated tundra soil microbial activity, releasing greenhouse gases that amplify climate warming. Warming over time has also accelerated shrub encroachment in the tundra, altering plant input abundance and quality, and causing further changes to soil microbial processes. To better understand the effects of increased temperature and the accumulated effects of climate change on soil bacterial activity, we quantified the growth responses of individual bacterial taxa to short-term warming (3 months) and long-term warming (29 years) in moist acidic tussock tundra. Intact soil was assayed in the field for 30 days using 18O-labeled water, from which taxon-specific rates of 18O incorporation into DNA were estimated as a proxy for growth. Experimental treatments warmed the soil by approximately 1.5°C. Short-term warming increased average relative growth rates across the assemblage by 36%, and this increase was attributable to emergent growing taxa not detected in other treatments that doubled the diversity of growing bacteria. However, long-term warming increased average relative growth rates by 151%, and this was largely attributable to taxa that co-occurred in the ambient temperature controls. There was also coherence in relative growth rates within broad taxonomic levels with orders tending to have similar growth rates in all treatments. Growth responses tended to be neutral in short-term warming and positive in long-term warming for most taxa and phylogenetic groups co-occurring across treatments regardless of phylogeny. Taken together, growing bacteria responded distinctly to short-term and long-term warming, and taxa growing in each treatment exhibited deep phylogenetic organization. IMPORTANCE Soil carbon stocks in the tundra and underlying permafrost have become increasingly vulnerable to microbial decomposition due to climate change. The microbial responses to Arctic warming must be understood in order to predict the effects of future microbial activity on carbon balance in a warming Arctic. In response to our warming treatments, tundra soil bacteria grew faster, consistent with increased rates of decomposition and carbon flux to the atmosphere. Our findings suggest that bacterial growth rates may continue to increase in the coming decades as faster growth is driven by the accumulated effects of long-term warming. Observed phylogenetic organization of bacterial growth rates may also permit taxonomy-based predictions of bacterial responses to climate change and inclusion into ecosystem models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e0154322
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 29 2023


  • Arctic tundra
  • Toolik LTER
  • climate change
  • field qSIP
  • phylogenetic signal
  • soil bacterial growth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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