The last 50 years of climate-induced melting of the Maliy Aktru glacier (Altai Mountains, Russia) revealed in a primary ecological succession

Ecol Evol. 2018 Jul 2;8(15):7401-7420. doi: 10.1002/ece3.4258. eCollection 2018 Aug.


In this article, we report and discuss the results obtained from a survey of plants, microorganisms (bacteria and fungi), and soil elements along a chronosequence in the first 600 m of the Maliy Aktru glacier's forefront (Altai Mountains, Russia). Many glaciers of the world show effects of climate change. Nonetheless, except for some local reports, the ecological effects of deglaciation have been poorly studied and have not been quantitatively assessed in the Altai Mountains. Here, we studied the ecological changes of plants, fungi, bacteria, and soil elements that take the form of a primary ecological succession and that took place over the deglaciated soil of the Maliy Aktru glacier during the last 50 year. According to our measurements, the glacier lost about 12 m per year during the last 50 years. Plant succession shows clear signs of changes along the incremental distance from the glacier forefront. The analysis of the plant α- and β-diversity confirmed an expected increase of them with increasing distance from the glacier forefront. Moreover, the analysis of β-diversity confirmed the hypothesis of the presence of three main stages of the plant succession: (a) initial (pioneer species) from 30 to 100 m; (b) intermediate (r-selected species) from 110 to 120-150 m; and (c) final (K-selected species) from 150 to 550. Our study also shows that saprotrophic communities of fungi are widely distributed in the glacier retreating area with higher relative abundances of saprotroph ascomycetes at early successional stages. The evolution of a primary succession is also evident for bacteria, soil elements, and CO 2 emission and respiration. The development of biological communities and the variation in geochemical parameters represent an irrefutable proof that climate change is altering soils that have been long covered by ice.

Keywords: Altai Mountains; climate change; deglaciation; glacier; primary succession.