Spring feeding by pink-footed geese reduces carbon stocks and sink strength in tundra ecosystems

  • van Der Wal R
  • Sjögersten S
  • Woodin S
 et al. 
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Tundra ecosystems are widely recognized as precious areas and globally important carbon (C) sinks, yet our understanding of potential threats to these habitats and their large soil C store is limited. Land-use changes and conservation measures in temperate regions have led to a dramatic expansion of arctic-breeding geese, making them important herbivores of high-latitude systems. In field experiments conducted in high- Arctic Spitsbergen, Svalbard, we demonstrate that a brief period of early season below- ground foraging by pink-footed geese is sufficient to strongly reduce C sink strength and soil C stocks of arctic tundra. Mechanisms are suggested whereby vegetation disruption due to repeated use of grubbed areas opens the soil organic layer to erosion and will thus lead to progressive C loss. Our study shows, for the first time, that increases in goose abundance through land-use change and conservation measures in temperate climes can dramatically affect the C balance of arctic tundra.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Belowground herbivory
  • C sink
  • C source
  • Ecosystem respiration
  • Goose grubbing
  • High arctic
  • Land-use change
  • Net ecosystem exchange
  • Spitsbergen

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  • René van Der Wal

  • Sofie Sjögersten

  • Sarah J. Woodin

  • Elisabeth J. Cooper

  • Ingibjörg S. Jónsdóttir

  • Dries Kuijper

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