, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 28-39

Spontaneous revegetation of cutwaway peatlands of North America

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Abstract

Modern extraction methods permit peat to be extracted to the minerotrophic layer of ombrotrophic peatlands (bogs). As the environmental conditions of these harvested peatlands are similar to minerotrophic peatlands (fens), such sites should be restored towards a fen system. However, it is not known whether fen species would recolonize such harvested sites on their own. We surveyed vegetation and environmental variables in 28 harvested peatlands with minerotrophic residual peat across Canada and in Minnesota, USA, and compared them to 11 undisturbed fens. Compared to harvested bogs previously studied, the harvested fens sampled in this study revegetated remarkably quickly (50%–70% vegetation cover) when the hydrological conditions were suitable. However, revegetation was less extensive for sites that were still drained (25% vegetation cover). A high water table and a thin layer of residual peat were the most important factors contributing to rapid recolonization rates. Although the harvested fens were rapidly recolonized, species composition was not the same as observed on undisturbed fens. Carex and Sphagnum, dominant in undisturbed fens, generally did not recolonize harvested fens. Thus, whether the goal is to increase species richness or to ensure the return of peat accumulating functions, fen species may have to be actively introduced.