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Vegetation and environmental variation in an Atlantic blanket bog in South-western Ireland

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Abstract

A vegetation survey was carried out in a relatively intact Atlantic blanket bog in Southwest Ireland to study the vegetation patterns in relation to environmental variation, and to quantify the effect of artificial and natural borders on compositional variation. The data were analysed using canonical correspondence analysis. In terms of both vegetation and water chemistry, the study site can be categorized as typical of Atlantic blanket bogs in the maritime regions of North-western Europe. The distribution of plant species was explained mainly by depth of the water table. The distribution of bryophytes was secondarily explained by the pH of the bog water, while the distribution of vascular plants was secondarily explained by concentrations of ammonia. The vegetation distribution exhibited little variation between the central sector of the peatland and its disturbed edges (hill-grazing and restoration areas), but a substantial variation was observed between the area along a natural edge (stream) and the areas close to the other peatland borders or centre. Similarly, the internal variation within each sector (centre, hill-grazing edge and restoration area edge) was small, but substantial vegetation variation was observed within the area located along the stream. The area along the stream was associated with relatively deep water table, shallow peat depth, high water colour, pH and NH4 + concentrations, and low Cl concentrations in the bog water. Our results suggest the existence of strong centre-natural margin gradients, as in raised bogs, and indicate that human or animal disturbance do not give rise to the marked transition zones that often characterize natural margins of mire systems. This indicates that even small areas and remnants of Atlantic blanket bogs are worthy of conservation and that their conservation value would benefit from the inclusion of sectors close to the natural peatland borders, which would increase the plant biodiversity of the conserved area.

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Acknowledgements

This study was funded by the ERTDI Programme 2000–2006, financed by the Irish Government under the National Development Plan and administered on behalf of the Department of Environment and Local Government by the Environmental Protection Agency (CELTICFLUX 2001-CC-C2-M1). MS and AL were funded by Environmental Protection Agency PhD fellowships (Grant codes 2002_PhD2_47 and 2002_PhD2_46, respectively). Financial support from Academy of Finland (Project code 202424) to E-ST is appreciated. We thank Caitriona Douglas of NPWS and Coillte Teoranta for permission to use the study site, Peter Jones and Mairead Kiely of the Plant Science Department in UCC for the use of lab facilities for plants identification, the Aquatic Services Unit of University College Cork for analysing the water samples, and Julien Gillet for help in fieldwork. Useful discussions with Caitriona Douglas, Mary O’Connor, Petr Šmilauer and Teemu Tahvanainen are appreciated. We thank two anonymous reviewers for their useful comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Matteo Sottocornola.

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Sottocornola, M., Laine, A., Kiely, G. et al. Vegetation and environmental variation in an Atlantic blanket bog in South-western Ireland. Plant Ecol 203, 69 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-008-9510-2

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Keyword

  • CCA
  • Ecosystem margins
  • Ordination analysis
  • Peatland conservation
  • Plant communities
  • Water chemistry