Dwelling in the deep – permafrost thawing strongly increases plant root growth and root litter input
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Plant roots play a key role in ecosystem carbon and nutrient cycling. Climate warming induced thawing of permafrost exposes large amounts of carbon and nitrogen at greater soil depths that hitherto have been detached from plant influences. Whether plant roots can reach and interact with these carbon and nitrogen sources upon permafrost thaw remains unknown. Here, we use a long-term permafrost thaw experiment and a short-term deep fertilization experiment in northern Sweden to assess changes in vegetation composition and root dynamics (deep nitrogen uptake, root depth distribution, root growth and phenology, root mortality and litter input) related to permafrost thaw, both in active layer and in newly thawed permafrost. We show that Eriophorum vaginatum and Rubus chamaemorus, both relatively deep-rooting species, can take up nitrogen released at depth of permafrost thaw, despite the late release time in autumn when plant activity is expected to have ceased. Also, root dynamics changed drastically after a decade of experimental permafrost thaw. Total root length, root growth and root litter input all strongly increased, not only in the active layer but also in the newly thawed permafrost, and the timing of root growth was related to the seasonality of soil thaw. These responses were driven by Eriophorum vaginatum, which differed greatly in root dynamics compared to the other species and thus worked as an ecosystem engineer. This study demonstrates that soil organic matter currently locked-up at depth in permafrost is no longer detached from plant processes upon thaw. Given the pivotal role that roots have in the carbon cycle and the importance of the large carbon stocks in arctic soils, the changes observed here have the potential to feedback onto the global climate system.
permafrost, root phenology, fine roots, minirhizotron, belowground, permafrost thaw, root biomass, root exudation, root litter
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-124753OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-124753DiVA: diva2:954744