Ecological response to permafrost thaw and consequences for local and global ecosystem services
The Arctic may seem remote, but the unprecedented environmental changes occurring there have important consequences for global society. Of all Arctic system components, changes in permafrost (perennially frozen ground) are one of the least documented. Permafrost is degrading as a result of climate warming, and evidence is mounting that changing permafrost will have significant impacts within and outside the region. This review asks: What are key structural and functional properties of ecosystems that interact with changing permafrost, and how do these ecosystem changes affect local and global society? Here, we look beyond the classic definition of permafrost to include a broadened focus on the composition of frozen ground, including the ice and the soil organic carbon content, and how it is changing. This ecological perspective of permafrost serves to identify areas of both vulnerability and resilience as climate, ecological disturbance regimes, and the human footprint all continue to change in this sensitive and critical region of Earth.