Soils beneath different arctic shrubs have contrasting responses to a natural gradient in temperature

Shrubs commonly form islands of fertility and are expanding their distribution and dominance in the arctic due to climate change, yet how soil properties may be influenced when different species of shrubs expand under warmer climates remains less explored. Important plant traits, such as their associated root community, are linked to functionally different and dominant shrub species in the arctic and these traits likely shape biogeochemical cycling in areas of shrub expansion. Using an elevational gradient as a proxy for warming, we explored how biochemical processes beneath two important arctic shrubs varied under warmer (low elevation) and cooler (high elevation) climates. Interestingly, the influence of elevation on biogeochemistry varied between the two shrubs. At the low elevation, Betula nana L., an ectomycorrhizal shrub, had high carbon (C) degrading enzyme activities, and relatively low potential net nitrogen (N) mineralization rates. Conversely, Empetrum nigrum ssp. hermaphroditum Hagerup, an ericoid mycorrhizal dwarf-shrub, had higher enzyme activities and net N immobilization rates at the higher elevation. Further, E. nigrum ssp. hermpahroditum appeared to have a more closed C and nutrient cycle than B. nana—enzymes degrading C, N, and phosphorus were tightly correlated with each other and with total C and ammonium concentrations in the humus beneath E. nigrum ssp. hermaphroditum, but not beneath B. nana. Our results suggest differences in the warming responses of C and N cycling beneath shrub species across an arctic tundra landscape.