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Linking functional traits of three organism levels as driving mechanisms of ecosystem functions in the Arctic (FTA)

We focus on the role of specific functional traits of arctic terrestrial organisms on ecosystem properties and ecosystem functions. We employ the natural lack of coarse litter fragmentators and their effect on ecosystem functions in relation to community trait diversity and specific functional traits.

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Project date

Starts
2017-01-01

Ends
2019-12-31

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Project type

  • field work
  • long-term monitoring

Discipline

  • terrestrial biology

Project Keywords

  • biosphere / ecological dynamics / ecosystem functions
  • biosphere / vegetation / nutrients
  • land surface / soils / microflora
  • land surface / soils / microfauna
  • land surface / soils / denitrification rate
  • land surface / soils / organic matter
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Summary

Functional traits (FT) characterize species in terms of their ecological roles in the community (ecosystem). There is a growing evidence that FT determine ecosystem properties via ecosystem processes and hence, eventually, also shape “ecosystem functions underlying ecosystem services” (EFS) and the explanatory power of FT is usually greater than more traditional taxonomic approach. Plant FT are features (morphological, physiological, phenological) that can be viewed as proxies to ecological strategies, as responses to environmental factors, as effects on other organism levels and on ecosystem properties. FT are currently widely used in ecology, and functional diversity captures ecological role better than species richness. Yet, there is still a scarcity of information on various traits from certain ecosystems. For instance, compared to well covered easily measureable FT of west European plant species, information on FT of high Arctic plants is limited and scattered, and some important plant groups are neglected. Even larger knowledge gaps are in FT of soil fauna and microorganisms. Soil-animal FT are usually directly connected with their activity in the ecosystem. Fauna in polar soils is dominated by microfauna because of its high tolerance to environmental stress as compared to mesofauna. Microfauna often graze on microbial communities and produce liquid faeces, accelerating turnover of nutrients. Mesofauna influence polar-soil development only little, and its importance increase in climax tundra and under bird cliffs. Macrofauna, the most important primary destruents, is lacking in high Arctic. The absence of EFS related to soil fauna is expected to be crucial in development of polar soils. Such development is reflected by increasing (multitrophic) diversity of present soil-fauna groups along with the increasing complexity and stability of the environment. The relative contribution of different biotic factors (evolution of microbial and other biological communities) and abiotic factors (glacial-driven weathering, soil development and moisture) on development of multitrophic linkages between above and belowground communities are necessary to approach. The main functional differentiation of soil invertebrates is related to variability in feeding strategies, body size and mobility. Soil microorganisms directly influence ecosystem processes. The proportion of fungi and bacteria, the most important functional groups of soil microorganisms, serves as useful indicator of the ecosystem properties, but there are many functional groups (across taxonomic grouping) inherently influencing specific ecosystem processes (e.g., decomposition, C+N mineralisation, nutrient cycling). Consequently, the proportional representation of functional groups (e.g., denitrifiers vs. nitrifiers; methanotrophs vs. methanogens, saprotrophic vs. mycorrhizal fungi) influence various EFS (e.g., C sequestration, soil fertility). It became evident that different organisms interact in providing EFS. For instance, plants differ in both the quantity and quality of resources that they return to soil, and individual plant species may have important effects on components of the soil biota and the processes that they regulate. Further, soil fauna and microbial community represent key players in SOM transformations. Altogether these three organism levels are eventually shaping two crucial EFS: C sequestration and soil functioning (which encompasses soil stability, fertility and water retention). It can be noticed that SOM is a crucial element linking all three organism levels in provisioning of diverse EFS. The high Arctic is less represented in number of studies investigating links between FT and EFS; moreover, such “multitrophic” trait approach has not been employed there so far.

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