Controls on carbon and nutrient cycling in arctic tundra
Principal Investigator: Grogan, Paul (12)
Licence Number: 15073
Organization: Queen's University
Licensed Year(s): 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008
Issued: May 29, 2012
Project Team: Paul Grogan (Principal Investigator, Queen's University), Casper Christiansen (Ph.D. student, Queen's University), Tara Zamin (Ph.D. student, Queen's University)

Objective(s): To substantially advance our understanding of how Canadian arctic tundra ecosystems function, and therefore how they are likely to be affected by perturbations such as climate change, resource development and extraction, and atmospheric pollution.

Project Description: The goal of this research over the next five years is to substantially advance our understanding of how Canadian arctic tundra ecosystems function, and therefore how they are likely to be affected by perturbations such as climate change, resource development and extraction, and atmospheric pollution. Specifically, this research team will focus on the impacts on vegetation due to warmer summer temperatures, deeper winter snow, increased nutrient availability and changes in herbivory.
The research will involve sampling of small pieces of soil and vegetation from an area within a 5 km radius of the Daring Lake Research Station, as this research team ll as from the small experimental manipulations (fertilizer plots (5 x 7 m), snowfences (15 m), greenhouses (~2 x 5 m) and fenced exclosures (20 x 20m)) that this research team has set up within an ~3 km2 area close to the station.

Ongoing activities

Q1. What is the significance of biogeochemical processes during winter and spring-thaw to overall annual nitrogen cycling in tundra ecosystems?
This question will be addressed through long-term manipulations of snow depth (fences) and nitrogen availability (using additions of the stable isotopic tracer 15N in late Fall) at Daring Lake. This research team will study the effects of deepened snow on winter and springtime nitrogen availability to plants, as this research team as soil solution and microbial pools, and run-off/leachates in the subsequent spring and summer seasons. Relative partitioning amongst microbial and vegetation components including shrubs will be determined using the 15N label.

Q2. What are the principal controls on the functioning of common tundra ecosystem types, and how are they likely to be affected directly and indirectly by climate change?
The researcher has initiated (along with this colleagues Drs. Lafleur and Henry) and now maintain a series of strategic long-term experiments in birch hummock tundra at Daring (factorial N and P additions, greenhouse warming and drying, low level and isotopic nitrogen additions, snow fences, and partly fertilized fenced exclosures) to investigate the response dynamics and interactions between various factors that are expected to be altered by future climate (e.g. snow accumulation, vegetation distributions). These experiments will provide the essential foundation to characterize many of the major controls on the functioning of an ecosystem-type that extends across a large section of the Canadian low Arctic and to contrast the findings with those from other major arctic research sites (e.g. Toolik Lake in Alaska, and Abisko in Sweden).

Q3. Are shrubs becoming more abundant in the Canadian low arctic?
Although recent shrub density increases and expansion have been this research team characterized in Alaskan tundra, this research team currently know very little about corresponding vegetation change in northern Canada. This research team established ten long-term shrub monitoring plots (100 m2) at Daring and made detailed maps indicating shrub density, height, and branching architecture. In addition, at a larger scale, in collaboration with the Government of the Northwest Territories, this research team will compare and ground-truth IKONOS high resolution satellite images of the Daring region.

Q4. What is the outcome of tundra plant-soil microbial competition for nitrogen over the 5-10 year time scale?
When nitrogen is added to tundra, soil microbes tend to accumulate most of it within days to weeks. Over five year and longer time scales, continued large nutrient additions result in enhanced plant uptake, presumably because microbes are ‘saturated’ and no longer competing. Although these studies have been interpreted as indicators of potential impacts of increased nutrient availability associated with faster decomposition due to climate warming, actual rates of increase are likely to be much lower. If so, will plants gain access to the enhanced N, or will they be outcompeted by ‘hungry’ (i.e. unsaturated) microbes? To investigate the medium term temporal dynamics of plant-microbial competition for moderately enhanced nitrogen availability, this research team has three experiments (single large additions; ongoing low level additions; and 15N additions) and will monitor the plots over the next five years.

New activities
Q.5. What are the impacts of herbivory on vegetation production and composition, and how might these impacts be altered as a result of climate change. This research team will use the exclosure plots described above to investigate how herbivory from caribou and small mammals interacts with vegetation growth and composition. Specifically this research team will measure plant growth and leaf tissue chemistry inside and outside the exclosures to characterize the effects of herbivores, and to investigate if plant leaf chemistry (secondary metabolites) alters when herbivory is excluded.

Copies of the publications this research team achieves will be forwarded to the Aurora Research Institute, and the Division of Environment and Natural Resources, Government of NWT for distribution to the communities.
This research team will participate in the Daring Lake Science Camp each year, if any of the group are present at that time. This research team also anticipates recruiting at least one local student from the science camp to stay on and help with the vegetation and soil sampling.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from May 30, 2012 to September 22, 2012.