Carbon dynamics in highly heterotrophic subarctic thaw ponds
- 1Department of Biological and Environmental Science, 40014 University of Jyväskylä, Finland
- 2Centre Eau Terre Environnement and Centre for Northern Studies (CEN), Institut national de la recherche scientifique, Quebec G1K 9A9, Canada
- 3Département des sciences fondamentales and Centre for Northern Studies (CEN), Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, Quebec G7H 4W2, Canada
Abstract. Global warming has accelerated the formation of permafrost thaw ponds in several subarctic and arctic regions. These ponds are net heterotrophic as evidenced by their greenhouse gas (GHG) supersaturation levels (CO2 and CH4), and generally receive large terrestrial carbon inputs from the thawing and eroding permafrost. We measured seasonal and vertical variations in the concentration and type of dissolved organic matter (DOM) in five subarctic thaw (thermokarst) ponds in northern Quebec, and explored how environmental gradients influenced heterotrophic and phototrophic biomass and productivity. Late winter DOM had low aromaticity indicating reduced inputs of terrestrial carbon, while the high concentration of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) suggests that some production of non-chromophoric dissolved compounds by the microbial food web took place under the ice cover. Summer DOM had a strong terrestrial signature, but was also characterized with significant inputs of algal-derived carbon, especially at the pond surface. During late winter, bacterial production was low (maximum of 0.8 mg C m−3 d−1) and was largely based on free-living bacterioplankton (58 %). Bacterial production in summer was high (up to 58 mg C m−3 d−1), dominated by particle-attached bacteria (67 %), and strongly correlated with the amount of terrestrial carbon. Primary production was restricted to summer surface waters due to strong light limitation deeper in the water column or in winter. The phototrophic biomass was equal to the heterotrophic biomass, but as the algae were mostly composed of mixotrophic species, most probably they used bacteria rather than solar energy in such shaded ponds. Our results point to a strong heterotrophic energy pathway in these thaw pond ecosystems, where bacterioplankton dominates the production of new carbon biomass in both summer and winter.