Interactions between winter temperatures and duration of exposure may structure Arctic microarthropod communities
The Arctic has a diverse terrestrial microarthropod fauna which overwinters in situ in soil and vegetation. This fauna is involved in key ecosystem process, for example decomposition and pollination, and has tolerance to the Arctic’s winter conditions. However, the Arctic is undergoing rapid change. Svalbard is experiencing warming rates up to four times the global average as well as alterations in precipitation (quantity and form; snow or rain) and wind direction. These will modify the conditions experienced by the overwintering fauna. Since laboratory experiments often fail to capture the diversity of environmental stressors, we employed a manipulation experiment using the naturally accumulating snow pack to moderate soil winter soil temperatures, combined with an extended incubator treatment, to map the duration limits of naturally induced cold tolerance. We demonstrate that the Collembola fauna can tolerate temperatures of −25 °C but that, in areas devoid of snow accumulation and when soil temperatures dip below −30 °C there is significant mortality. Furthermore, we demonstrate that exposure to a further extended 12 month period at −6 °C, as a simple model of a situation where snow cover is not lost during the short Arctic summer, results in additional mortality with relatively few Collembola surviving. By contrast, while oribatid mites displayed similar survival over a natural winter as the Collembola, they were highly resistant to the extended exposure at −6 °C, with no additional mortality occurring. We also documented survival amongst other invertebrate groups, including Nematocera and Brachycera larvae, Hemiptera (Acyrthosiphon svalbardicum), Coleoptera (Isochnus flagellum), and Araneae (Linyphiidae). We conclude that snow depth and winter air temperatures interact to regulate soil microarthropod populations over local scales and therefore the functioning of the Arctic soil ecosystem. Moreover, the environmental changes currently being observed in polar regions will continue to modify this fauna and its local and micro-scale distribution.
Authors: Coulson, Stephen James, Convey, Peter ORCID record for Peter Convey, Schuuring, Sil, Lang, Simone Iris