The active layer of permafrost in Ny Ålesund, Svalbard (79°N) around the Bayelva River in the Leirhaugen glacier moraine is measured as a small net carbon sink at the brink of becoming a carbon source. In many permafrost-dominating ecosystems, microbes in the active layers have been shown to drive organic matter degradation and greenhouse gas production, creating positive feedback on climate change. However, the microbial metabolisms linking the environmental geochemical processes and the populations that perform them have not been fully characterized. In this paper, we present geochemical, enzymatic, and isotopic data paired with 10 Pseudomonas sp. cultures and metagenomic libraries of two active layer soil cores (BPF1 and BPF2) from Ny Ålesund, Svalbard, (79°N). Relative to BPF1, BPF2 had statistically higher C/N ratios (15 ± 1 for BPF1 vs. 29 ± 10 for BPF2; n = 30, p < 10–5), statistically lower organic carbon (2% ± 0.6% for BPF1 vs. 1.6% ± 0.4% for BPF2, p < 0.02), statistically lower nitrogen (0.1% ± 0.03% for BPF1 vs. 0.07% ± 0.02% for BPF2, p < 10–6). The d13C values for inorganic carbon did not correlate with those of organic carbon in BPF2, suggesting lower heterotrophic respiration. An increase in the δ13C of inorganic carbon with depth either reflects an autotrophic signal or mixing between a heterotrophic source at the surface and a lithotrophic source at depth. Potential enzyme activity of xylosidase and N-acetyl-β-D-glucosaminidase increases twofold at 15°C, relative to 25°C, indicating cold adaptation in the cultures and bulk soil. Potential enzyme activity of leucine aminopeptidase across soils and cultures was two orders of magnitude higher than other tested enzymes, implying that organisms use leucine as a nitrogen and carbon source in this nutrient-limited environment. Besides demonstrating large variability in carbon compositions of permafrost active layer soils only ∼84 m apart, results suggest that the Svalbard active layer microbes are often limited by organic carbon or nitrogen availability and have adaptations to the current environment, and metabolic flexibility to adapt to the warming climate.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Microbiology (medical)
- active layer