Cotton-Grass and Blueberry have Opposite Effect on Peat Characteristics and Nutrient Transformation in Peatland
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Peatlands are large repositories of carbon (C). Sphagnum mosses play a key role in C sequestration, whereas the presence of vascular plants is generally thought to stimulate peat decomposition. Recent studies stress the importance of plant species for peat quality and soil microbial activity. Thus, learning about specific plant–microbe–soil relations and their potential feedbacks for C and nutrient cycling are important for a correct understanding of C sequestration in peatlands and its potential shift associated with vegetation change. We studied how the long-term presence of blueberry and cotton-grass, the main vascular dominants of spruce swamp forests, is reflected in the peat characteristics, soil microbial biomass and activities, and the possible implications of their spread for nutrient cycling and C storage in these systems. We showed that the potential effect of vascular plants on ecosystem functioning is species specific and need not necessarily result in increased organic matter decomposition. Although the presence of blueberry enhanced phosphorus availability, soil microbial biomass and the activities of C-acquiring enzymes, cotton-grass strongly depleted phosphorus and nitrogen from the peat. The harsh conditions and prevailing anoxia retarded the decomposition of cotton-grass litter and caused no significant enhancement in microbial biomass and exoenzymatic activity. Therefore, the spread of blueberry in peatlands may stimulate organic matter decomposition and negatively affect the C sequestration process, whereas the potential spread of cotton-grass would not likely change the functioning of peatlands as C sinks.
Keywordspeatlands C/N/P stoichiometry vascular plants Sphagnum nutrient availability decomposition enzymatic activity
This study was supported by the Grant Agency of Czech Republic (13-17398S), the Ministry of Youth Sports and Education of Czech Republic (LM2015075) and the Academy of Finland (No. 1259190, for PS). We thank Terezia Říhová for analyses on FIA, Ville Narhi for elemental analyses, Dan Vaněk for analyses on LiquiTOC and Ondřej Žampach for his help with the field work and FTIR measurements.
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