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Environmental Research Letters




IOP Publishing

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High latitude ecosystems are prone to phenological mismatches due to climate change- driven advances in the growing season and changing arrival times of migratory herbivores. These changes have the potential to alter biogeochemical cycling and contribute to feedbacks on climate change by altering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) through large regions of the Arctic. Yet the effects of phenological mismatches on gas fluxes are currently unexplored. We used a three-year field experiment that altered the start of the growing season and timing of grazing to investigate how phenological mismatch affects GHG exchange. We found early grazing increased mean GHG emission to the atmosphere despite lower CH4 emissions due to grazing-induced changes in vegetation structure that increased uptake of CO2. In contrast, late grazing reduced GHG emissions because greater plant productivity led to an increase in CO2 uptake that overcame the increase in CH4 emission. Timing of grazing was an important control on both CO2 and CH4 emissions, and net GHG exchange was the result of opposing fluxes of CO2 and CH4. N2O played a negligible role in GHG flux. Advancing the growing season had a smaller effect on GHG emissions than changes to timing of grazing in this study. Our results suggest that a phenological mismatch that delays timing of grazing relative to the growing season, a change which is already developing along in western coastal Alaska, will reduce GHG emissions to the atmosphere through increased CO2 uptake despite greater CH4 emissions.