Bioavailability of dissolved organic carbon across a hillslope chronosequence in the Kuparuk River region, Alaska

Kyle A. Whittinghill, Jacques C. Finlay, Sarah E. Hobbie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Dissolved organic matter (DOM) represents an important component of carbon and nutrient cycling in arctic ecosystems. In northern Alaska, DOM production and microbial activity differ among landscapes with varied glaciation histories with lower rates on younger landscapes. In addition, within the region, soil DOM concentrations vary at the scale of hillslope toposequences, with higher concentrations in upslope than streamside positions. However, it is unknown whether variation in DOM production quality among and within landscapes linked to patterns in DOM quality. To answer this question, we conducted a study of DOM biodegradability within and among hillslopes of different landscape age. We examined rates of DOM decomposition and several indices of the quality of water-extracted DOM collected from soils in the summer. A variety of methods indicated that DOM quality generally was consistent across hillslope positions and among landscape ages. For example, DOM fluorescence index, an index of quality for chromophoric DOM, did not vary significantly across all hillslope positions or landscape ages. There were no significant differences among landscape ages or hillslope positions in DOM specific UV absorbance, in rates of DOM mineralization, or in DOM decomposition, indicating that DOM quality was consistent regardless of its source or position along hillslope flow paths. This suggests that despite many potential sources of variation within and among arctic hillslopes linked to differences in vegetation, hydrology, microclimate, and microbial activity, there is little variation in growing-season soil DOM quality. Microbial processing of DOM within arctic hillslopes may lead to a convergence in growing season DOM quality resulting in little spatial variation. Approximately 10-20% of the growing season DOM is labile in tundra soils, slightly higher that the proportion that is labile in arctic rivers during the summer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-33
Number of pages9
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Jim Cotner, Edward Rastetter, Gus Shaver, Joe McFadden, Paul Bloom, and Sandy Weisberg for their help and advice on this project and the Toolik Lake Field Station and Arctic Long Term Ecological Research program staff for logistical support. We would especially like to thank Henry Kemp for his help with field and laboratory work. This material is based upon work supported by the Arctic NSF Long-Term Ecological Research Program, and the National Science Foundation under Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant No. 080278 .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Arctic
  • Decomposition
  • Dissolved organic carbon
  • Landscape age
  • Topography


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