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Research article2020Peer reviewedOpen access

Ontogenic succession of thermokarst thaw ponds is linked to dissolved organic matter quality and microbial degradation potential

Peura, Sari; Wauthy, Maxime; Simone, Domenico; Eiler, Alexander; Einarsdottir, KarelIna; Rautio, Milla; Bertilsson, Stefan


Warming climate is thawing the permafrost in arctic and subarctic regions, leading to formation of thermokarst ponds. During the formation and geomorphological succession of these ponds, carbon that has been trapped in frozen soils for thousands of years is hydrologically mobilized and returned to the active carbon cycle. We sampled 12 thermokarst ponds representing three different stages of pond succession to study the potential of microbial communities to metabolize the organic carbon in the water. We investigated the quality of the dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in the water column based on the spectrophotometric and fluorometric properties of the chromophoric dissolved organic matter combined with parallel factor analysis and the potential of the microbial community for degrading these carbon compounds based on genetic markers related to carbon degradation. Our analysis showed a clear difference in the DOC quality across the different developmental stages. In the younger ponds, organic matter quality suggested that it was originating from the degrading permafrost and in the metagenomes collected from these ponds, the normalized abundance of genes related to degradation of carbon compounds was higher. There was also a shift in the degradation potential in the water column of the ponds, with higher potential for organic matter degradation in deeper, anoxic layers. In conclusion, our results show that the DOC quality and the genetic potential of the microbial community for carbon cycling change across the pond ontogeny, suggesting a capacity of the microbial communities to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Published in

Limnology and Oceanography
2020, Volume: 65, number: Supplement 1, pages: S248-S263 Publisher: WILEY