Climate change alters temporal dynamics of alpine soil microbial functioning and biogeochemical cycling via earlier snowmelt

Arthur Broadbent, Helen Snell, Antonios Michas, William Pritchard, Lindsay Newbold, Irene Cordero Herrera, Tim Goodall, Nikolaus Schallhart, Ruediger Kaufmann, Robert I. Griffiths, Michael Schloter, Michael Bahn, Richard Bardgett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Soil microbial communities regulate global biogeochemical cycles and respond rapidly to changing environmental conditions. However, understanding how soil microbial communities respond to climate change, and how this influences biogeochemical cycles, remains a major challenge. This is especially pertinent in alpine regions where climate change is taking place at double the rate of the global average, with large reductions in snow cover and earlier spring snowmelt expected as a consequence. Here, we show that spring snowmelt triggers an abrupt transition in the composition of soil microbial communities of alpine grassland that is closely linked to shifts in soil microbial functioning and biogeochemical pools and fluxes. Further, by experimentally manipulating snow cover we show that this abrupt seasonal transition in wide-ranging microbial and biogeochemical soil properties is advanced by earlier snowmelt. Preceding winter conditions did not change the processes that take place during snowmelt. Our findings emphasise the importance of seasonal dynamics for soil microbial communities and the biogeochemical cycles that they regulate. Moreover, our findings suggest that earlier spring snowmelt due to climate change will have far reaching consequences for microbial communities and nutrient cycling in these globally widespread alpine ecosystems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2264-2275
Number of pages12
JournalISME Journal
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2021


  • Climate Change
  • Ecosystem
  • Seasons
  • Snow
  • Soil
  • Soil Microbiology


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