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Vegetation leachate during Arctic thaw enhances soil microbial phosphorus

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>04/2016
<mark>Journal</mark>Ecosystems
Issue number3
Volume19
Number of pages13
Pages (from-to)477-489
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date29/12/15
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

Leachate from litter and vegetation penetrates permafrost surface soils during thaw before being exported to aquatic systems. We know this leachate is critical to ecosystem function downstream and hypothesized that thaw leachate inputs would also drive terrestrial microbial activity and nutrient uptake. However, we recognized two potential endpoint scenarios: vegetation leachate is an important source of C for microbes in thawing soil; or vegetation leachate is irrelevant next to the large background C, N, and P pools in thaw soil solution. We assessed these potential outcomes by making vegetation leachate from frozen vegetation and litter in four Arctic ecosystems that have a variety of litter quality and soil C, N, and P contents; one of these ecosystems included a disturbance recovery chronosequence that allowed us to test our second hypothesis that thaw leachate response would be enhanced in disturbed ecosystems. We added water or vegetation leachate to intact, frozen, winter soil cores and incubated the cores through thaw. We measured soil respiration throughout, and soil solution and microbial biomass C, N, and P pools and gross N mineralization immediately after a thaw incubation (−10 to 2°C) lasting 6 days. Vegetation leachate varied strongly by ecosystem in C, N, and P quantity and stoichiometry. Regardless, all vegetated ecosystems responded to leachate additions at thaw with an increase in the microbial biomass phosphate flush and an increase in soil solution carbon and nitrogen, implying a selective microbial uptake of phosphate from plant and litter leachate at thaw. This response to leachate additions was absent in recently disturbed, exposed mineral soil but otherwise did not differ between disturbed and undisturbed ecosystems. The selective uptake of P by microbes implies either thaw microbial P limitation or thaw microbial P uptake opportunism, and that spring thaw is an important time for P retention in several Arctic ecosystems.