Differential allocation of carbon in mosses and grasses governs ecosystem sequestration: a 13C tracer study in the high Arctic

S. J. Woodin, R. Van Der Wal, M. Sommerkorn, J. L. Gornall

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26 Citations (Scopus)


This study investigates the influence of vegetation composition on carbon (C) sequestration in a moss-dominated ecosystem in the Arctic.

A 13C labelling study in an arctic wet meadow was used to trace assimilate into C pools of differing recalcitrance within grasses and mosses and to determine the retention of C by these plant groups.

Moss retained 70% of assimilated 13C over the month following labelling, which represented half the growing season. By contrast, the vascular plants, comprising mostly grasses, retained only 40%. The mechanism underlying this was that moss allocated 80% of the 13C to recalcitrant C pools, a much higher proportion than in grasses (56%).

This method enabled elucidation of a plant trait that will influence decomposition and hence persistence of assimilated C in the ecosystem. We predict that moss-dominated vegetation will retain sequestered C more strongly than a grass-dominated community. Given the strong environmental drivers that are causing a shift from moss to grass dominance, this is likely to result in a reduction in future ecosystem C sink strength.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)944-949
Number of pages6
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number4
Early online date14 Sep 2009
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009


  • 13C
  • Arctic
  • carbon
  • decomposition sequestration
  • grass
  • moss
  • plant growth form
  • climate-change
  • habitat degradation
  • plant
  • tundra
  • decomposition
  • temperature
  • vegetation
  • feedbacks
  • responses
  • turnover


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