Many Arctic regions are currently experiencing substantial summer and winter climate changes. Litter decomposition is a fundamental component of ecosystem carbon and nutrient cycles, with fungi being among the primary decomposers. To assess the impacts of seasonal climatic changes on litter fungal communities and their functioning, Betula glandulosa leaf litter was surface-incubated in two adjacent Low Arctic sites with contrasting soil moisture regimes: dry shrub heath and wet sedge tundra at Disko Island, Greenland. At both sites, we investigated the impacts of factorial combinations of enhanced summer warming (using open top chambers; OTCs) and deepened snow (using snow fences) on surface litter mass loss, chemistry and fungal decomposer communities after approximately one year. Enhanced summer warming significantly restricted litter mass loss by 32% in the dry and 17% in the wet site. Litter moisture content was significantly reduced by summer warming in the dry, but not in the wet site. Likewise, fungal total abundance and diversity were reduced by OTC warming at the dry site, while comparatively modest warming effects were observed in the wet site. These results suggest that increased evapotranspiration in the OTC plots lowered litter moisture content to the point where fungal decomposition activities became inhibited. In contrast, snow addition enhanced fungal abundance in both sites but did not significantly affect litter mass loss rates. Across sites, control plots only shared 15% of their fungal phylotypes, suggesting strong local controls on fungal decomposer community composition. Nevertheless, fungal community functioning (litter decomposition) was negatively affected by warming in both sites. We conclude that although buried soil organic matter decomposition is widely expected to increase with future summer warming, surface litter decay and nutrient turnover rates in both xeric and relatively moist tundra are likely to be significantly restricted by the evaporative drying associated with warmer air temperatures. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
In wet tundra ecosystems, covering vast areas of the Arctic, the belowground plant biomass exceeds the aboveground, making root dynamics a crucial component of the nutrient cycling and the carbon (C) budget of the Arctic. In response to the projected climatic scenarios for the Arctic, namely increased temperature and changes in precipitation patterns, root dynamics may be altered leading to significant changes in the net ecosystem C budget. Here, we quantify the single and combined effects of 1 year of increased winter snow deposition by snow fences and summer warming by open-top chambers (OTCs) on root dynamics in a wetland at Disko Island (West Greenland). Based on ingrowth bags, snow accumulation decreased root productivity by 42% in the 0-15 cm soil depth compared to ambient conditions. Over the growing season 2014, minirhizotron observations showed that root growth continued until mid-September in all treatments, and it peaked between the end of July and mid-August. During the season, plots exposed to experimental warming showed a significant increase in root number during September (between 39 and 53%) and a 39% increase in root length by the beginning of September. In addition, a significant reduction of root diameter (14%) was observed in plots with increased snow accumulation. Along the soil profile (0-40 cm) summer warming by OTCs significantly increased the total root length (54%), root number (41%) and the root growth in the 20-30 cm soil depth (71%). These results indicate a fast response of this ecosystem to changes in air temperature and precipitation. Hence, on a short-term, summer warming may lead to increased root depth and belowground C allocation, whereas increased winter snow precipitation may reduce root production or favor specific plant species by means of reduced growing season length or increased nutrient cycling. Knowledge on belowground root dynamics is therefore critical to improve the estimation of the C balance of the Arctic.