C–N–P interactions control climate driven changes in regional patterns of C storage on the North Slope of Alaska
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As climate warms, changes in the carbon (C) balance of arctic tundra will play an important role in the global C balance. The C balance of tundra is tightly coupled to the nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) cycles because soil organic matter is the principal source of plant-available nutrients and determines the spatial variation of vegetation biomass across the North Slope of Alaska. Warming will accelerate these nutrient cycles, which should stimulate plant growth.
Objectives and methods
We applied the multiple element limitation model to investigate the spatial distribution of soil organic matter and vegetation on the North Slope of Alaska and examine the effects of changes in N and P cycles on tundra C budgets under climate warming.
The spatial variation of vegetation biomass on the North Slope is mainly determined by nutrient mineralization, rather than air temperature. Our simulations show substantial increases in N and P mineralization with climate warming and consequent increases in nutrient availability to plants. There are distinctly different changes in N versus P cycles in response to warming. N is lost from the region because the warming-induced increase in N mineralization is in excess of plant uptake. However, P is more tightly cycled than N and the small loss of P under warming can be compensated by entrainment of recently weathered P into the ecosystem cycle. The increase in nutrient availability results in larger C gains in vegetation than C losses from soils and hence a net accumulation of C in the ecosystems.
The ongoing climate warming in Arctic enhances mineralization and leads to a net transfer of nutrient from soil organic matter to vegetation, thereby stimulating tundra plant growth and increased C sequestration in the tundra ecosystems. The C balance of the region is predominantly controlled by the internal nutrient cycles, and the external nutrient supply only exerts a minor effect on C budget.
KeywordsClimate warming Nutrient budget C balance Nutrient limitation C-nutrient interaction
We gratefully acknowledge support from NSF Grants # DEB-1026843, EF-1065587, and OPP-1107707 to the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA. We acknowledge the use of Alaska Arctic Bioclimate Subzones map, Alaska Arctic Biomass map, and Alaska Arctic Vegetation map derived from the Toolik-Arctic Geobotanical Atlas (http://www.arcticatlas.org/).
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