Climate-induced hydrological fluctuations shape Arctic Alaskan peatland plant communities

Mariusz Gałka, Andrei-Cosmin Diaconu, Anna Cwanek, Lars Hedenäs, Klaus-Holger Knorr, Piotr Kołaczek, Edyta Łokas, Milena Obremska, Graeme T. Swindles, Angelica Feurdean

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Rapidly increasing temperatures in high-latitude regions are causing major changes in wetland ecosystems. To assess the impact of concomitant hydroclimatic fluctuations, mineral deposition, and autogenous succession on the rate and direction of changing arctic plant communities in Arctic Alaska, we conducted detailed palaeoecological analyses using plant macrofossil, pollen, testate amoebae, elemental analyses, and radiocarbon and lead (210Pb) dating on two replicate monoliths from a peatland that developed in a river valley on the northern foothills of the Books Range. We observed an expansion of Sphagnum populations and vascular plants preferring dry habitats, such as Sphagnum warnstorfii, Sphagnum teres/squarrosum, Polytrichum strictum, Aulacomnium palustre and Salix sp., in recent decades between 2000 and 2015 CE, triggered by an increase in temperature and deepening water tables. Deepening peatland water tables became accentuated over the last two decades, when it reached its lowest point in the last 700 years. Conversely, a higher water-table between ca. 1500 and 1950 CE led to a recession of Sphagnum communities and an expansion of sedges. The almost continuous supply of mineral matter during this time led to a dominance of minerotrophic plant communities, although with varying species composition throughout the study period. The replicate cores show similar patterns, but nuanced differences are also visible, depicting fine spatial scale differences particularly in peat-forming plant distribution and the different timings of their presence. In conclusion, our study provides valuable insights into the impact of hydroclimatic fluctuations on peatland vegetation in Arctic Alaska, highlighting their tendency to dry out in recent decades. It also highlights the importance of river valley peatlands in paleoenvironmental reconstructions.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Article number167381
Number of pages15
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date30 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2023

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