Range shifts in a foundation sedge potentially induce large Arctic ecosystem carbon losses and gains

Salvatore R. Curasi, Ned Fetcher, Rebecca E. Hewitt, Peter M. Lafleur, Michael M. Loranty, Michelle C. Mack, Jeremy L. May, Isla H. Myers-Smith, Susan M. Natali, Steven F. Oberbauer, Thomas C. Parker, Oliver Sonnentag, Sergio A. Vargas Zesati, Stan D. Wullschleger, Adrian V. Rocha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Foundation species have disproportionately large impacts on ecosystem structure and function. As a result, future changes to their distribution may be important determinants of ecosystem carbon (C) cycling in a warmer world. We assessed the role of a foundation tussock sedge (Eriophorum vaginatum) as a climatically vulnerable C stock using field data, a machine learning ecological niche model, and an ensemble of terrestrial biosphere models (TBMs). Field data indicated that tussock density has decreased by 1/40.97 tussocks per m2 over the past 1/438 years on Alaska's North Slope from 1/41981 to 2019. This declining trend is concerning because tussocks are a large Arctic C stock, which enhances soil organic layer C stocks by 6.9% on average and represents 745 Tg C across our study area. By 2100, we project that changes in tussock density may decrease the tussock C stock by 41% in regions where tussocks are currently abundant (e.g. -0.8 tussocks per m2 and -85 Tg C on the North Slope) and may increase the tussock C stock by 46% in regions where tussocks are currently scarce (e.g. +0.9 tussocks per m2 and +81 Tg C on Victoria Island). These climate-induced changes to the tussock C stock were comparable to, but sometimes opposite in sign, to vegetation C stock changes predicted by an ensemble of TBMs. Our results illustrate the important role of tussocks as a foundation species in determining future Arctic C stocks and highlight the need for better representation of this species in TBMs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number045024
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Volume17
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 2022

Keywords

  • Arctic
  • carbon cycle
  • carbon stocks
  • climate change
  • Eriophorum vaginatum
  • tundra

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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