Mycobiont contribution to tundra plant acquisition of permafrost-derived nitrogen

Rebecca E. Hewitt, M. Rae DeVan, Irina V. Lagutina, Helene Genet, A. David McGuire, D. Lee Taylor, Michelle C. Mack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


As Arctic soils warm, thawed permafrost releases nitrogen (N) that could stimulate plant productivity and thus offset soil carbon losses from tundra ecosystems. Although mycorrhizal fungi could facilitate plant access to permafrost-derived N, their exploration capacity beyond host plant root systems into deep, cold active layer soils adjacent to the permafrost table is unknown. We characterized root-associated fungi (RAF) that colonized ericoid (ERM) and ectomycorrhizal (ECM) shrub roots and occurred below the maximum rooting depth in permafrost thaw-front soil in tussock and shrub tundra communities. We explored the relationships between root and thaw front fungal composition and plant uptake of a 15N tracer applied at the permafrost boundary. We show that ERM and ECM shrubs associate with RAF at the thaw front providing evidence for potential mycelial connectivity between roots and the permafrost boundary. Among shrubs and tundra communities, RAF connectivity to the thaw boundary was ubiquitous. The occurrence of particular RAF in both roots and thaw front soil was positively correlated with 15N recovered in shrub biomass Taxon-specific RAF associations could be a mechanism for the vertical redistribution of deep, permafrost-derived nutrients, which may alleviate N limitation and stimulate productivity in warming tundra.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)126-141
Number of pages16
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • Alaska
  • active layer
  • ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi
  • ericoid mycorrhizal (ERM) fungi
  • fungal internal transcribed spacer (ITS)
  • isotope N
  • moist acidic tundra

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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