A tipping point in carbon storage when forest expands into tundra is related to mycorrhizal recycling of nitrogen

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  • Karina Engelbrecht Clemmensen
  • Mikael Brandström Durling
  • Michelsen, Anders
  • Sara Hallin
  • Roger D. Finlay
  • Björn D. Lindahl

Tundra ecosystems are global belowground sinks for atmospheric CO2. Ongoing warming-induced encroachment by shrubs and trees risks turning this sink into a CO2 source, resulting in a positive feedback on climate warming. To advance mechanistic understanding of how shifts in mycorrhizal types affect long-term carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) stocks, we studied small-scale soil depth profiles of fungal communities and C–N dynamics across a subarctic-alpine forest-heath vegetation gradient. Belowground organic stocks decreased abruptly at the transition from heath to forest, linked to the presence of certain tree-associated ectomycorrhizal fungi that contribute to decomposition when mining N from organic matter. In contrast, ericoid mycorrhizal plants and fungi were associated with organic matter accumulation and slow decomposition. If climatic controls on arctic-alpine forest lines are relaxed, increased decomposition will likely outbalance increased plant productivity, decreasing the overall C sink capacity of displaced tundra.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1193-1204
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2021

    Research areas

  • Arctic warming, carbon sequestration, decomposition, functional genes, meta-barcoding, mycorrhizal type, nitrogen cycling, soil fungal communities, stable isotopes, treeline ecotone

ID: 260189272