Missing nitrogen source during ecosystem succession within retrogressive thaw slumps in Alaska


Buckeridge K.M., McLaren J.R., Mack M.C., Schuur E.A.G., Schimel J.


Environmental Research Letters, vol. 18, n° 6, art. no. 065003, 2023


Retrogressive thaw slumps (RTS)—thermal erosion of soil and vegetation after ground ice thaw—are increasing. Recovery of plant biomass after RTS is important for maintaining Arctic carbon (C) stocks and is regulated by nutrient availability for new plant growth. Many RTS are characterized by verdant shrub growth mid-succession, atypical of the surrounding nutrient-limited tundra. Here, we investigated the potential for internal and external sources of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) to support mid-successional shrub growth at three Alaskan RTS chronosequences. We assessed patterns of soil and microbial CNP, soil NP cycling rates and stocks, N inputs via biological N2-fixation, and thaw leachate over time after disturbance. We found a clear transfer of P stocks from mineral to organic soils with increasing site age, yet insufficient N from any one source to support observed shrub growth. Instead, multiple mechanisms may have contributed to mid-successional shrub growth, including sustained N-cycling with reduced plant biomass, N leaching from undisturbed tundra, uninvestigated sources of N2-fixation, and most promising given the large resource, deep mineral soil N stocks. These potential mechanisms of N supply are critical for the regulation of the Arctic C cycle in response to an increasingly common climate-driven disturbance.



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