, Volume 89, Issue 2, pp 87-106

The relationships of vegetation to surface water chemistry and peat chemistry in fens of Alberta, Canada

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Abstract

The relationships between vegetation components, surface water chemistry and peat chemistry from 23 fens in boreal Alberta, Canada, substantiate important differences along the poor to rich fen gradient. Each of the three fen types have their own characteristic species. The extreme-rich fens are characterized by Calliergon trifarium, Drepanocladus revolvens, Scirpus hudsonianus, S. cespitosus, Scorpidium scorpioides, and Tofieldia glutinosa. Moderate-rich fens are characterized by Brachythecium mildeanum, Carex diandra, Drepanocladus vernicosus, D. aduncus, and D. polycarpus. Poor fens are characterized by Carex pauciflora, Drepanocladus exannulatus, Sphagnum angustifolium, S. jensenii, and S. majus. Moderate-rich fens have fewer species in common with poor fens than with extreme-rich fens, while species richness is highest in the moderate-rich fens and lowest in poor fens. Variation in vascular plant occurrence appears to be more associated with nutrient levels, while bryophytes are more affected by changes in acidity and mineral elements. Based on chemical criteria, the three fen types are clearly separated by surface water pH, calcium, magnesium, and conductivity, but are less clearly differentiated by the nitrogen and phosphorus components of the surface waters. Moderate-rich fens are chemically variable both temporally and spatially, whereas poor fens and extreme-rich fens are more stable ecosystems. Whereas components of alkalinity-acidity are the most important factors that distinguish the three fen types in western Canada, nutrient concentrations in the surface waters generally do not differ appreciably in the three fen types.