Volume 36, Issue 9 p. 2331-2343
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Small but mighty: Impacts of rodent-herbivore structures on carbon and nutrient cycling in arctic tundra

Austin Roy

Corresponding Author

Austin Roy

Department of Biology, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas, USA

Correspondence

Austin Roy

Email: [email protected]

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Laura Gough

Laura Gough

Department of Biological Sciences, Towson University, Towson, Maryland, USA

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Natalie T. Boelman

Natalie T. Boelman

Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA

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Rebecca J. Rowe

Rebecca J. Rowe

Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire, USA

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Kevin L. Griffin

Kevin L. Griffin

Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA

Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA

Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA

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Jennie R. McLaren

Jennie R. McLaren

Department of Biology, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas, USA

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First published: 26 June 2022
Citations: 1

Handling Editor: Shawn Leroux

Abstract

  1. Understanding arctic ecosystem function is key to understanding future global carbon (C) and nutrient cycling processes. However, small mammal herbivores can have effects on ecosystems as structure builders and these effects have been underrepresented in the understanding of arctic systems.
  2. We examined the impact of small mammal structures (hay piles, runways, latrines) on soils and plants in three arctic tundra regions near Utqiaġvik, Toolik Lake, and Nome, Alaska. Our aims were to (1) examine how vole and lemming structures influence plant and soil nutrient pools and microbial processes, (2) determine if structure effects were similar across tundra system types, and (3) understand how changes in the abundance and cover of these structures during different phases of small mammal multi-annual population cycles might influence biogeochemical cycling.
  3. In general, small mammal structures increased nitrogen (N) availability in soils, although effects varied by study region. Across study regions, hay piles were relatively uncommon (lowest % cover) but increased multiple soil N and P pools, C- and N-acquiring enzyme activities, and leaf phosphorus (P) concentrations, with the specific nutrient variables and size of the effects varying by study region. Latrines had the second highest cover and influenced multiple C, N and P pools, but their effects were mainly observed within a single region. Lastly, runways had the highest % cover of all activity types but increased the fewest number of soil nutrient variables.
  4. We conclude that by influencing soil nutrient availability and biogeochemical cycling, small mammal structures can influence bottom-up regulation of ecosystem function, particularly during the high phase of the small mammal population cycle. Future changes in these population cycles might alter the role of small mammals in the Arctic and have lasting effects on system processes.

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CONFLICT OF INTEREST

The authors have no conflict of interest to declare.

DATA AVAILABILITY STATEMENT

Data from this project is available through the Environmental Data Initiative: https://doi.org/10.6073/pasta/bfb12a6cf2ccf923df22bce8e4353f69 (Roy & McLaren, 2022); https://doi.org/10.6073/pasta/e8f1f800c4d632a6178ba3a1928bc0b5 (Gough & Roy, 2022).