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

Authors


René van der Wal, tel. +44 1330 826 337, fax +44 1330 823 303, e-mail: rvdw@ceh.ac.uk

Abstract

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 belowground 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.

Ancillary