Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2021-286
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2021-286

  20 Nov 2021

20 Nov 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Response of vegetation and carbon fluxes to brown lemming herbivory in Northern Alaska

Jessica Plein1,3, Rulon W. Clark1, Kyle A. Arndt1,3,a, Walter C. Oechel1,3, Douglas Stow2, and Donatella Zona1,3 Jessica Plein et al.
  • 1Department of Biology, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Dr., San Diego, CA 92182, USA
  • 2Department of Geography, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Dr., San Diego, CA 92182, USA
  • 3Global Change Research Group, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Dr., San Diego, CA 92182, USA
  • acurrently at: Earth Systems Research Center, Institute for the Study of Earth Oceans and Space, University of New Hampshire, 8 College Road, Durham, NH 03824, USA

Abstract. The Arctic is warming at double the average global rate, affecting the carbon cycle of tundra ecosystems. Most research on carbon fluxes from Arctic tundra ecosystems has focused on abiotic environmental controls (e.g. temperature, rainfall, or radiation). However, Arctic tundra vegetation, and therefore the carbon balance of these ecosystems, can be substantially impacted by herbivory. In this study we tested how vegetation consumption by brown lemmings (Lemmus trimucronatus) can impact carbon exchange of a wet-sedge tundra ecosystem near Utqiaġvik, Alaska during the summer, and the recovery of vegetation during a following summer. We placed brown lemmings in individual enclosure plots and tested the impact of lemmings’ herbivory on carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) fluxes and the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) immediately after lemming removal and during the following growing season. During the first summer of the experiment, lemmings’ herbivory reduced plant biomass (as shown by the decrease in the NDVI) and decreased CO2 uptake, while not significantly impacting CH4 emissions. Methane emissions were likely not significantly affected due to CH4 being produced deeper in the soil and escaping from the stem bases of the vascular plants. The summer following the lemming treatments, NDVI and CO2 fluxes returned to magnitudes similar to those observed before the start of the experiment, suggesting recovery of the vegetation, and a transitory nature of the impact of lemming herbivory. Overall, lemming herbivory has short-term but substantial effects on carbon sequestration by vegetation and might contribute to the considerable interannual variability in CO2 fluxes from tundra ecosystems.

Jessica Plein et al.

Status: open (until 01 Jan 2022)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse

Jessica Plein et al.

Jessica Plein et al.

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Short summary
Tundra vegetation and the carbon balance of Arctic ecosystems can be substantially impacted by herbivory. We tested how herbivory by brown lemmings in individual enclosure plots impacted carbon exchange of tundra ecosystems via altering carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) fluxes. Lemmings significantly decreased CO2 uptake, while not affecting CH4 emissions. There was no significant difference the following growing season due to recovery of the vegetation.
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