Ice-free terrestrial environments of the western Antarctic Peninsula are expanding and subject to colonization by new microorganisms and plants, which control biogeochemical cycling. Measuring growth rates of microbial populations and ecosystem carbon flux is critical for understanding how terrestrial ecosystems in Antarctica will respond to future warming. We implemented a field warming experiment in early (bare soil; +2 °C) and late (peat moss-dominated; +1.2 °C) successional glacier forefield sites on the western Antarctica Peninsula. We used quantitative stable isotope probing with H218O using intact cores in situ to determine growth rate responses of bacterial taxa to short-term (1 month) warming. Warming increased the growth rates of bacterial communities at both sites, even doubling the number of taxa exhibiting significant growth at the early site. Growth responses varied among taxa. Despite that warming induced a similar response for bacterial relative growth rates overall, the warming effect on ecosystem carbon fluxes was stronger at the early successional site—likely driven by increased activity of autotrophs which switched the ecosystem from a carbon source to a carbon sink. At the late-successional site, warming caused a significant increase in growth rate of many Alphaproteobacteria, but a weaker and opposite gross ecosystem productivity response that decreased the carbon sink—indicating that the carbon flux rates were driven more strongly by the plant communities. Such changes to bacterial growth and ecosystem carbon cycling suggest that the terrestrial Antarctic Peninsula can respond fast to increases in temperature, which can have repercussions for long-term elemental cycling and carbon storage.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics