Tracing changes in base cation sources for Arctic tundra vegetation upon permafrost thaw

Elisabeth Mauclet, Catherine Hirst, Arthur Monhonval, Emily I. Stevenson, Merlin Gérard, Maëlle Villani, Hélène Dailly, Edward A.G. Schuur, Sophie Opfergelt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Upon permafrost thaw, the volume of soil accessible to plant roots increases which modifies the acquisition of plant-available resources. Tundra vegetation is actively responding to the changing environment with two major directions for vegetation shift across the Arctic: the expansion of deep-rooted sedges and the widespread increase in shallow-rooted shrubs. Changes in vegetation composition, density and distribution have large implications on the Arctic warming and permafrost stability by influencing the albedo, the snow accumulation and the litter decomposition rate. A better understanding of these cumulated effects of changing vegetation on warming and permafrost requires assessing the changes in plant nutrient sources upon permafrost thaw, nutrient access being a limiting factor for the Arctic tundra vegetation development. In this study, we determined the influence of permafrost degradation on the base cation sources for plant uptake by using the radiogenic Sr isotope ratio as a tracer of source, along a permafrost thaw gradient at Eight Mile Lake in Interior Alaska (USA). As plants take up Sr from the exchangeable soil fraction with no measurable fractionation, we determined the differences in 87Sr/86Sr ratio of the exchangeable Sr between shallow and deeper soil horizons, and we compared the 87Sr/86Sr ratio of foliar samples for three Arctic tundra species with contrasted rooting depths (Betula nana, Vaccinium vitis-idaea, and Eriophorum vaginatum) upon different permafrost thaw conditions. The higher foliar 87Sr/86Sr ratios of shallow-rooted Arctic tundra shrubs (B. nana, V. vitis-idaea) was consistent with a shallow source of soil exchangeable Sr from surface soil horizons, whereas the lower foliar 87Sr/86Sr ratios of deep-rooted Arctic tundra sedges (E. vaginatum) reflected a source of Sr from deeper soil horizons. There is a shift between poorly and highly thawed soil profiles towards lower foliar 87Sr/86Sr ratios in both deep- and shallow-rooted plant species. This shift supports that micro-landscape variability in the exchangeable base cation reserve with soil depth represents a key source of readily available nutrients for both shallow- and deep-rooted plant species upon permafrost thaw. This study highlights a key change in plant nutrient source to consider upon thaw. This finding lies beyond the common view that nutrient release at the permafrost thaw front preferentially benefits deep-rooted plant species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number116277
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023


  • Alaska
  • Arctic tundra
  • Eight Mile Lake
  • Plant nutrient source
  • Radiogenic Sr isotopes
  • Rooting depth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Tracing changes in base cation sources for Arctic tundra vegetation upon permafrost thaw'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this