Plant uptake offsets silica release from a large arctic tundra wildfire
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Rapid climate change at high latitudes is projected to increase wildfire extent in tundra ecosystems by up to fivefold by the end of the century. Tundra wildfire could alter terrestrial silica (SiO2) cycling by restructuring surface vegetation and by deepening the seasonally thawed active layer. These changes could influence the availability of silica in terrestrial permafrost ecosystems and alter lateral exports to downstream marine waters, where silica is often a limiting nutrient. In this context, we investigated the effects of the largest Arctic tundra fire in recent times on plant and peat amorphous silica content and dissolved silica concentration in streams. Ten years after the fire, vegetation in burned areas had 73% more silica in aboveground biomass compared to adjacent, unburned areas. This increase in plant silica was attributable to significantly higher plant silica concentration in bryophytes and increased prevalence of silica‐rich gramminoids in burned areas. Tundra fire redistributed peat silica, with burned areas containing significantly higher amorphous silica concentrations in the O‐layer, but 29% less silica in peat overall due to shallower peat depth post burn. Despite these dramatic differences in terrestrial silica dynamics, dissolved silica concentration in tributaries draining burned catchments did not differ from unburned catchments, potentially due to the increased uptake by terrestrial vegetation. Together, these results suggest that tundra wildfire enhances terrestrial availability of silica via permafrost degradation and associated weathering, but that changes in lateral silica export may depend on vegetation uptake during the first decade of postwildfire succession.
© The Author(s), 2019. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The definitive version was published in Carey, J. C., Abbott, B. W., & Rocha, A. V. Plant uptake offsets silica release from a large arctic tundra wildfire. Earth’s Future, 7(9), (2019): 1044-1057, doi:10.1029/2019EF001149.
Suggested CitationCarey, J. C., Abbott, B. W., & Rocha, A. V. (2019). Plant uptake offsets silica release from a large arctic tundra wildfire. Earth’s Future, 7(9), 1044-1057.
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