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Sedge Succession and Peatland Methane Dynamics: A Potential Feedback to Climate Change

Abstract

Under the warmer climate, predicted for the future, northern peatlands are expected to become drier. This drying will lower the water table and likely result in reduced emissions of methane (CH4) from these ecosystems. However, the prediction of declining CH4 fluxes does not consider the potential effects of ecological succession, particularly the invasion of sedges into currently wet sites (open water pools, low lawns). The goal of this study was to characterize the relationship between the presence of sedges in peatlands and CH4 efflux under natural conditions and under a climate change simulation (drained peatland). Methane fluxes, gross ecosystem production, and dissolved pore water CH4 concentrations were measured and a vegetation survey was conducted in a natural and drained peatland near St. Charles-de-Bellechasse, Quebec, Canada, in the summer of 2003. Each peatland also had plots where the sedges had been removed by clipping. Sedges were larger, more dominant, and more productive at the drained peatland site. The natural peatland had higher CH4 fluxes than the drained peatland, indicating that drainage was a significant control on CH4 flux. Methane flux was higher from plots with sedges than from plots where sedges had been removed at the natural peatland site, whereas the opposite case was observed at the drained peatland site. These results suggest that CH4 flux was enhanced by sedges at the natural peatland site and attenuated by sedges at the drained peatland site. However, the attenuation of CH4 flux due to sedges at the drained site was reduced in wetter periods. This finding suggests that CH4 flux could be decreased in the event of climate warming due to the greater depth to the water table, and that sedges colonizing these areas could further attenuate CH4 fluxes during dry periods. However, during wet periods, the sedges may cause CH4 fluxes to be higher than is currently predicted for climate change scenarios.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by a Discovery Grant from the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and a Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences grant to J.M.W. and an NSERC Canada Graduate Scholarship to M.S. A special thanks to Les Tourbes Nirom Peat Moss Inc. for use of the study site. We are grateful to Bronwyn Findlay, Claudia St. Arnaud, J. R. van Haarlem, Katy Shaw, Marie Dubois, and Pete Whittington for assistance in the field and to Melissa Greenwood for lab assistance. Several anonymous reviewers provided insightful comments that greatly improved this paper.

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Correspondence to J. M. Waddington.

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Strack, M., Waller, M.F. & Waddington, J.M. Sedge Succession and Peatland Methane Dynamics: A Potential Feedback to Climate Change. Ecosystems 9, 278–287 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-005-0070-1

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-005-0070-1

Keywords

  • peatland
  • ecological succession
  • vascular plant
  • methane flux
  • water table