Plant foliar nutrient response to active layer and water table depth in warming permafrost soils

Briana L. Jasinski, Rebecca E. Hewitt, Marguerite Mauritz, Samantha N. Miller, Edward A.G. Schuur, Meghan A. Taylor, Xanthe J. Walker, Michelle C. Mack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Thawing permafrost in northern latitudes has led to deepening active soil layers and fluctuating water tables. This could increase plant access to permafrost-derived nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and other nutrients such as calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg), and subsequently increase plant productivity and ecosystem carbon storage and nutrient cycling. We hypothesized that deepening permafrost thaw and water table fluctuations would alter species-specific foliar N:P ratios. Since there is often more P, Ca and Mg available in the deeper mineral soil layers and more N available in the shallow organic layers, we expected that deeply rooted species would decrease foliar N:P ratios due to root proximity to thawing mineral soil, and plants with shallower rooting systems mostly in the organic layer would increase foliar N:P ratios. We assessed foliar and canopy nutrient responses of seven vascular plant species in moist acidic tussock tundra vegetation in the northern foothills of the Alaska Range to variable soil thaw depths and water table levels induced by either a natural thermokarst gradient or a winter warming snow fence experiment. In both the natural thermokarst gradient and the warming experiment, wet or deeply thawed areas generally led to an increase in foliar nutrient concentrations and greater canopy mass and canopy nutrients. For the majority of species, foliar N:P ratios remained proportional or decreased in deciduous species in wet sites, with the exception of one shallowly rooted species that increased foliar N:P ratio in deeply thawed sites. Overall, plant acquisition of P was more related to water table level than to thaw depth, and water table modulated the canopy biomass response of the species at the warming experiment. Synthesis. Foliar N:P ratios suggest that plant species in this tussock tundra ecosystem are either remaining or becoming more N-limited as thaw depth deepens and water table level rises, indicating that P is not likely to become the primary limiting nutrient with the progression of permafrost thaw. However, the amount of deeply thawed, wet areas that develop on the landscape as permafrost thaws will be important contributors in the total movement of nutrients above-ground.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1201-1216
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Ecology
Volume110
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2022

Keywords

  • foliar nutrients
  • global change ecology
  • nitrogen
  • permafrost thaw
  • phosphorus
  • thermokarst
  • warming experiment
  • water tables

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science

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