, Volume 32, Issue 6, pp 989–1000 | Cite as

Drought as a Trigger for Rapid State Shifts in Kettle Ecosystems: Implications for Ecosystem Responses to Climate Change

  • Alex W. Ireland
  • Robert K. Booth
  • Sara C. Hotchkiss
  • Jennifer E. Schmitz


Global climate change has raised important questions about ecosystem resilience and the likelihood of unexpected and potentially irreversible ecosystem state shifts. Conceptual models provide a framework for generating hypotheses about long-term ecosystem processes and their responses to external perturbations. In this article, we review the classic model of autogenic peatland encroachment into closed-basin kettle lakes (terrestrialization) as well as studies that document patterns of terrestrialization that are inconsistent with this hypothesis. We then present a new conceptual model of episodic, drought-triggered terrestrialization, which is consistent with existing data and provides a mechanism by which climatic variability could cause non-linear patterns of peatland development in these ecosystems. Next, we review data from comparative studies of kettle lakes along a peatland-development gradient to explore potential ecological and biogeochemical consequences of non-linear patterns of terrestrialization. Finally, we identify research approaches that could be used to test conceptual models of terrestrialization, investigate the ecological implications of non-linear patterns of peatland development, and improve our ability to predict responses of kettle systems to climate changes of the coming decades and century.


Peatlands Autogenic succession Allogenic processes Hydrology Geomorphology Sedimentation Ecosystem state shift Carbon cycling Ecosystem services Model systems 



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (Division of Environmental Biology) under grant numbers 1118676 and 1011224. Earlier versions of this manuscript were improved by the insightful comments of Daniel Charman, Julie Loisel, Frank Pazzaglia, Zicheng Yu, and two anonymous reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Society of Wetland Scientists 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alex W. Ireland
    • 1
  • Robert K. Booth
    • 1
  • Sara C. Hotchkiss
    • 2
  • Jennifer E. Schmitz
    • 3
  1. 1.Earth and Environmental Sciences DepartmentLehigh UniversityBethlehemUSA
  2. 2.Department of BotanyUniversity of Wisconsin – MadisonMadisonUSA
  3. 3.Limnology and Marine Science ProgramUniversity of Wisconsin – MadisonMadisonUSA

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