Permafrost thaw with warming reduces microbial metabolic capacities in subsurface soils

Linwei Wu, Felix Yang, Jiajie Feng, Xuanyu Tao, Qi Qi, Cong Wang, Edward A.G. Schuur, Rosvel Bracho, Yi Huang, James R. Cole, James M. Tiedje, Jizhong Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Microorganisms are major constituents of the total biomass in permafrost regions, whose underlain soils are frozen for at least two consecutive years. To understand potential microbial responses to climate change, here we examined microbial community compositions and functional capacities across four soil depths in an Alaska tundra site. We showed that a 5-year warming treatment increased soil thaw depth by 25.7% (p =.011) within the deep organic layer (15–25 cm). Concurrently, warming reduced 37% of bacterial abundance and 64% of fungal abundances in the deep organic layer, while it did not affect microbial abundance in other soil layers (i.e., 0–5, 5–15, and 45–55 cm). Warming treatment altered fungal community composition and microbial functional structure (p <.050), but not bacterial community composition. Using a functional gene array, we found that the relative abundances of a variety of carbon (C)-decomposing, iron-reducing, and sulphate-reducing genes in the deep organic layer were decreased, which was not observed by the shotgun sequencing-based metagenomics analysis of those samples. To explain the reduced metabolic capacities, we found that warming treatment elicited higher deterministic environmental filtering, which could be linked to water-saturated time, soil moisture, and soil thaw duration. In contrast, plant factors showed little influence on microbial communities in subsurface soils below 15 cm, despite a 25.2% higher (p <.05) aboveground plant biomass by warming treatment. Collectively, we demonstrate that microbial metabolic capacities in subsurface soils are reduced, probably arising from enhanced thaw by warming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1403-1415
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • carbon cycling
  • climate warming
  • functional microbes
  • permafrost thaw
  • tundra

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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