Smith, T.E., Wall, D.H., Hogg, I.D., Adam, B.J., Nielsen, U.N. & Virginia, R.A. (2012). Thawing permafrost alters nematode populations and soil habitat characteristics in an Antarctic polar desert ecosystem. Pedobiologia, 55(2), 75-81.
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/6553
Spatial distribution of soil nematode populations in Antarctic terrestrial ecosystems is tightly controlled by environmental factors and thus highly sensitive to changes in soil properties. Increases in the magnitude and frequency of episodic warming events as well as eventual warming trends are likely to result in increased water availability due to glacial melting and permafrost thaw, and may also incite changes in soil physical and chemical characteristics that determine nematode habitat suitability. We hypothesized that climate warming would result in new suitable soil habitats leading to heightened diversity and activity in nematode communities. In order to test this hypothesis, we compared nematode populations in patches of soil wetted by naturally enhanced permafrost thaw versus adjacent soils unaffected by thaw. We found that thaw sites had significantly lower nematode abundances and living to dead ratios, contradicting our hypothesis. We also observed significantly altered soil texture (finer particle size), lower pH and higher salinity in permafrost seeps. These observations suggest that current and future changes in climate may alter soil properties and result in significant changes in nematode population structure, distribution and function.