Ungulate trampling modifies soils and interlinked ecosystem functions across biomes. Until today, most research has focused on temperate ecosystems and mineral soils while trampling effects on cold and organic matter-rich tundra soils remain largely unknown. We aimed to develop a general model of trampling effects on soil structure, biota, microclimate and biogeochemical processes, with a particular focus on polar tundra soils. To reach this goal, we reviewed literature about the effects of trampling and physical disturbances on soils across biomes and used this to discuss the knowns and unknowns of trampling effects on tundra soils. We identified the following four pathways through which trampling affects soils: (a) soil compaction; (b) reductions in soil fauna and fungi; (c) rapid losses in vegetation biomass and cover; and (d) longer term shifts in vegetation community composition. We found that, in polar tundra, soil responses to trampling pathways 1 and 3 could be characterized by nonlinear dynamics and tundra-specific context dependencies that we formulated into testable hypotheses. In conclusion, trampling may affect tundra soil significantly but many direct, interacting and cascading responses remain unknown. We call for research to advance the understanding of trampling effects on soils to support informed efforts to manage and predict the functioning of tundra systems under global changes. A free Plain Language Summary can be found within the Supporting Information of this article.
- Ekologia, evoluutiobiologia