Mineral element recycling in topsoil following permafrost degradation and a vegetation shift in sub-Arctic tundra

Maëlle Villani, Elisabeth Mauclet, Yannick Agnan, Arsène Druel, Briana Jasinski, Meghan Taylor, Edward A.G. Schuur, Sophie Opfergelt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Climate change affects the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions by exposing previously frozen permafrost to thaw, unlocking soil nutrients, changing hydrological processes, and boosting plant growth. As a result, sub-Arctic tundra is subject to a shrub expansion, called “shrubification”, at the expense of sedge species. Depending on the intrinsic foliar properties of these plant species, changes in foliar mineral element fluxes with shrubification in the context of permafrost degradation may influence topsoil mineral element composition. Despite the potential implications of changes in topsoil mineral element concentrations for the fate of organic carbon, this remains poorly quantified. Here, we investigate vegetation foliar and topsoil mineral element composition (Si, K, Ca, P, Mn, Zn, Cu, Mo, V) across a natural gradient of permafrost degradation at a typical sub-Arctic tundra at Eight Mile Lake (Alaska, USA). Results show that foliar mineral element concentrations are higher (up to 9 times; Si, K, Mo for all species, and for some species Zn) or lower (up to 2 times; Ca, P, Mn, Cu, V for all species, and for some species Zn) in sedge than in shrub species. As a result, a vegetation shift over ∼40 years has resulted in lower topsoil concentrations in Si, K, Zn, and Mo (respectively of 52, 24, 20, and 51%) in highly degraded permafrost sites compared to poorly degraded permafrost sites due to lower foliar fluxes of these elements. For other elements (Ca, P, Mn, Cu, and V), the vegetation shift has not induced a marked change in topsoil concentrations at this current stage of permafrost degradation. A modeled amplified shrubification associated with a further permafrost degradation is expected to increase foliar Ca, P, Mn, Cu, and V fluxes, which will likely change these element concentrations in topsoil. These data can serve as a first estimate to assess the influence of other shifts in vegetation in Arctic and sub-Arctic tundra such as sedge expansion under wetter soil conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number115915
StatePublished - Sep 1 2022


  • mineral elements
  • permafrost degradation
  • shrubification
  • sub-Arctic tundra
  • topsoil
  • vegetation change

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science


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