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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


The Northern high latitudes are warming twice as fast as the global average, and permafrost has become vulnerable to thaw. Changes to the environment during thaw leads to shifts in microbial communities and their associated functions, such as greenhouse gas emissions. Understanding the ecological processes that structure the identity and abundance (i.e., assembly) of pre- and post-thaw communities may improve predictions of the functional outcomes of permafrost thaw. We characterized microbial community assembly during permafrost thaw using in situ observations and a laboratory incubation of soils from the Storflaket Mire in Abisko, Sweden, where permafrost thaw has occurred over the past decade. In situ observations indicated that bacterial community assembly was driven by randomness (i.e., stochastic processes) immediately after thaw with drift and dispersal limitation being the dominant processes. As post-thaw succession progressed, environmentally driven (i.e., deterministic) processes became increasingly important in structuring microbial communities where homogenizing selection was the only process structuring upper active layer soils. Furthermore, laboratory-induced thaw reflected assembly dynamics immediately after thaw indicated by an increase in drift, but did not capture the long-term effects of permafrost thaw on microbial community dynamics. Our results did not reflect a link between assembly dynamics and carbon emissions, likely because respiration is the product of many processes in microbial communities. Identification of dominant microbial community assembly processes has the potential to improve our understanding of the ecological impact of permafrost thaw and the permafrost–climate feedback.


Soil Biogeochemistry and Microbial Ecology

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Frontiers in Microbiology



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This is an open access article published by Frontiers in Frontiers in Microbiology in 2020, available online: