Contribution of Vegetation and Soil components to Carbon cycle in Arctic environment in relationship to climate change - SIOS 2017_0009 (VegSoCA)

We will attempt to close some of important gaps highlighted in the last IPCC report concerning interactions of multiple abiotic (depth of the active layer and temperature) and biotic (plant photosynthetic metabolism and soil microbe respiration ) factors in determining fluxes of CO2 and CH4 in Arctic environments.

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  • field work
  • sios


  • terrestrial biology

Project Keywords

  • biosphere / terrestrial ecosystems / alpine/tundra
  • biosphere / vegetation / carbon

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Arctic permafrost soils contain approximately 50% of the global soil Carbon (C) pool. Most of the research community agree that future permafrost thawing will induce the acceleration of the microbial breakdown of this C pool with a consequent release of CO2 and CH4 to the atmosphere. However, the magnitude and the impact of C release from permafrost thawing on future climate change is still uncertain , in particular it is not clear how much of the forecasted CO2 released by soil respiration due to permafrost thawing can be balanced by the CO2 assimilation through photosynthesis. This depends on several factors that affect both plant photosynthesis and plant and microbial respiration. These factors include the effect of single and combined climate drivers have on photosynthetic and respiratory metabolism. Firstly, we have shown that the increase of air temperature from 10 to 15 °C implies a decrease in CO2 assimilation in Arctic species well represented at the Ny Ålesund site at Svalbard Islands (Cannone et al., 2016), but is not completely known which can be the combined effect of increasing temperature and CO2 concentration on plant photosynthesis. Secondly, the effect of the possible increase in Net Primary Production on microbial decomposition is not certain, intensification of the soil organic matter decomposition in response to addition of easily decomposable substances (C from roots or litterfall) into the soil and associated higher microbial-derived CO2 efflux, so called priming effect, could be expected. Thirdly, the combined effects of different abiotic factors on the decomposability of the permafrost soils should be considered. Among the most relevant could be highlighted the depth of the active layer, water table, quality of the organic matter, temperature and humidity. While root respiration seems to be more sensitive to availability of substrates from above-ground, microbial respiration of soil organic matter increases exponentially with temperature, but is inhibited at the dry and wet ends of the soil moisture table. Priming effect is expected to become stronger with the rising temperatures and to be suppressed in poorly drained soils). For what concerns methane, its production rates are expected also to be affected by inputs of substrate for methanogenesis which include root exudates and released CO2. The CH4 emissions are expected to rise with changing climate because methanogenesis has substantially higher Q10 rates in comparison to CH4 oxidation. Moreover, higher water table favors methanogenesis whereas well aerated drier soils stimulate CH4 oxidation. All these aspects have to be taken into account to be able to model the future emissions of c from Arctic soils. In this project, we will focus the attention on biotic and abiotic controls over CO2 and CH4 emissions in High Arctic ecosystems of Svalbard archipelago. Our plans for the next experimental campaign at the Ny Ålesund experimental site consist in establish plots along a gradient with different permafrost thawing level, varying in their microclimate, including soil temperature and moisture and estimate the C fluxes of the main components of the ecosystem. This will be evaluated in subplots with manipulated litter deposition, to mimic the future increase in NPP. This approach will allow unravelling the main biotic and abiotic drivers of C emissions from the Arctic soils and to quantify expected changes in C fluxes under permafrost thawing. Moreover, we will quantify the contribution of plant C to the release of CO2 and CH4 in different conditions of permafrost thawing. This will be realized by labelling representative plots with 13C enriched CO2 and tracing the 13C incorporated at leaf level in plant and soil microbial biomass and the 13C released as CO2 and CH4.

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