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Microbiome assembly in thawing permafrost and its feedbacks to climate

September 1, 2022

The physical and chemical changes that accompany permafrost thaw directly influence the microbial communities that mediate the decomposition of formerly frozen organic matter, leading to uncertainty in permafrost–climate feedbacks. Although changes to microbial metabolism and community structure are documented following thaw, the generality of post-thaw assembly patterns across permafrost soils of the world remains uncertain, limiting our ability to predict biogeochemistry and microbial community responses to climate change. Based on our review of the Arctic microbiome, permafrost microbiology, and community ecology, we propose that Assembly Theory provides a framework to better understand thaw-mediated microbiome changes and the implications for community function and climate feedbacks. This framework posits that the prevalence of deterministic or stochastic processes indicates whether the community is well-suited to thrive in changing environmental conditions. We predict that on a short timescale and following high-disturbance thaw (e.g., thermokarst), stochasticity dominates post-thaw microbiome assembly, suggesting that functional predictions will be aided by detailed information about the microbiome. At a longer timescale and lower-intensity disturbance (e.g., active layer deepening), deterministic processes likely dominate, making environmental parameters sufficient for predicting function. We propose that the contribution of stochastic and deterministic processes to post-thaw microbiome assembly depends on the characteristics of the thaw disturbance, as well as characteristics of the microbial community, such as the ecological and phylogenetic breadth of functional guilds, their functional redundancy, and biotic interactions. These propagate across space and time, potentially providing a means for predicting the microbial forcing of greenhouse gas feedbacks to global climate change.

Publication Year 2022
Title Microbiome assembly in thawing permafrost and its feedbacks to climate
DOI 10.1111/gcb.16231
Authors Jessica G. Ernakovich, Robyn A. Barbato, Virginia Rich, Christina Schädel, Rebecca E. Hewitt, Stacey Doherty, Emily Whalen, Benjamin Abbott, Jiri Barta, Christina Biasi, Chris Chabot, Jenni Hultman, Christian Knoblauch, Maggie Chui Yim Lau Vetter, Mary-Cathrine Leewis, Susanne Liebner, Rachel Mackelprang, Tullis Onstott, Andreas Richter, Ursel M. E. Schütte, Henri Siljanen, Neslihan Taş, Ina Timling, Tatiana Vishnivetskaya, Mark Waldrop, Matthias Winkel
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Global Change Biology
Index ID 70248063
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center