Thermokarst-pond plant community characteristics and effects on icewedge degradation in the Prudhoe Bay region, Alaska
|Thesis (M.S.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2022
|Ice-wedge thermokarst ponds are forming in many areas of the Arctic as a result of climate warming and infrastructure development. Previous research suggests that development of aquatic vegetation within these ponds may create negative feedbacks to the process of ice-wedge degradation by reducing pond-bottom temperatures and thaw depths. The objectives of this research were to characterize thermokarst-pond plant communities and to evaluate the effects of vegetation on within-pond sediment temperatures and thaw depths. Aquatic vegetation was sampled in 39 plots within 29 thermokarst ponds in the Prudhoe Bay region of Alaska. Five floristically distinct plant communities were identified: Calliergon richardsonii comm., Scorpidium scorpioides comm., Pseudocalliergon turgescens comm., Hippuris vulgaris comm., and Ranunculus gmelinii comm. These communities had low species diversity (mean species richness 3.2 ± 1.5 SD) and were best differentiated by the single dominant species included in plant-community names. Ordination of species composition data revealed a temperature gradient, along which high biomass was associated with low sediment temperature and shallow thaw depth. The C. richardsonii and P. turgescens moss-dominated communities had very high biomass values (3079 g/m² ± 1895 SD and 3135 g/m² ± 585 SD, respectively). Examinations of temperature and thaw differences between communities were limited by sample size, as several communities were described based on only two plots each. To evaluate the potential insulative role of pond vegetation on pond-bottom temperature and thaw depth, differences between broad vegetation types (i.e., moss, forb, sparse) rather than communities were examined. Vegetation cover, total biomass, biomass of plant functional types, and soil organic horizon thickness were sampled, along with mean thaw depth and sediment temperature. Linear mixed-effects models were used to identify vegetation-related parameters with the highest predictive power of thaw and temperature. Mean sediment temperatures measured during 19 July - 23 August 2021 were warmest in the sparse plots (8.9 °C ± 0.2 SE) compared to the forb plots (8.2 °C ± 0.3 SE) and the moss plots (6.7 °C ± 0.4 SE). Moss plots also had shallower late-August thaw depths (42.5 cm ± 1.3 SE) compared to forb (52.7 cm ± 1.7 SE) and sparse (52.7 cm ± 1.4 SE) plots. Vegetation cover was negatively correlated with sediment temperature, whereas vegetation cover, moss thickness, and organic layer thickness were all negatively correlated with thaw depth. The stronger relationships observed between vegetation-related factors and thaw depth compared to sediment temperature were probably affected by the short period of temperature observations within this study. Although stochastic factors likely play a role in community establishment within thermokarst ponds, additional sampling is needed across all pond ages, ice-wedge degradation/stabilization stages, and a broader range of habitats within ponds to discern if there is a clear successional trajectory for thermokarst-pond plant communities. This study provided descriptions of relatively understudied aquatic plant communities that play an important role in Arctic landscape change. Notably, very high biomass values were found in young ponds (one with an age of only 8 years) dominated by moss communities. Results indicate that aquatic plant communities with high moss biomass have high capacity for insulation that potentially reduces permafrost thaw and ice-wedge degradation, leading to ice-wedge stabilization.
|National Science Foundation (NNA-IRPS, NSF Award # 1928237)
|Master of Science in Biological Sciences
|Thermokarst-pond plant community characteristics and effects on icewedge degradation in the Prudhoe Bay region, Alaska
|Department of Biology and Wildlife
|Walker, Donald A.
|Breen, Amy L.
|Raynolds, Martha K.
|Ruess, Roger W.
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Includes WIldlife Biology and other Biological Sciences. For Marine Biology see the Marine Sciences collection.