Letters to Nature

Nature 416, 82-83 (7 March 2002) | doi:10.1038/416082a; Received 7 September 2001; Accepted 6 December 2001

Arctic microorganisms respond more to elevated UV-B radiation than CO2

David Johnson1, Colin D. Campbell2, John A. Lee1, Terry V. Callaghan1,3 & Dylan Gwynn-Jones4

  1. Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK
  2. The Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen AB15 8QH, UK
  3. Abisko Scientific Research Station, SE 981-07, Abisko, Sweden
  4. Institute of Biological Science, University of Wales, Aberystwyth SY23 3DA, UK

Correspondence to: David Johnson1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to D.J. (e-mail; Email: D.Johnson@Shef.ac.uk).

Surface ultraviolet-B radiation and atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased as a result of ozone depletion and burning of fossil fuels1, 2. The effects are likely to be most apparent in polar regions3 where ozone holes have developed and ecosystems are particularly sensitive to disturbance4. Polar plant communities are dependent on nutrient cycling by soil microorganisms, which represent a significant and highly labile portion of soil carbon (C) and nitrogen (N). It was thought5 that the soil microbial biomass was unlikely to be affected by exposure of their associated plant communities to increased UV-B. In contrast, increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations were thought to have a strong effect as a result of greater below-ground C allocation6. In addition, there is a growing belief that ozone depletion is of only minor environmental concern because the impacts of UV-B radiation on plant communities are often very subtle7. Here we show that 5 years of exposure of a subarctic heath to enhanced UV-B radiation both alone and in combination with elevated CO2 resulted in significant changes in the C:N ratio and in the bacterial community structure of the soil microbial biomass.