, Volume 144, Issue 3, pp 305–327 | Cite as

Plant functional group effects on peat carbon cycling in a boreal rich fen

  • Danielle RuppEmail author
  • Evan S. Kane
  • Catherine Dieleman
  • Jason K. Keller
  • Merritt Turetsky


Dominant plant functional groups (PFGs) found in boreal rich fens include sedges, grasses, horsetails, and cinquefoils (obligate wetland shrubs). Precipitation regime shift and permafrost thaw due to climate change will likely trigger changes in fen plant community structure through shifts in these PFGs, and it is thus crucial to understand how these PFGs will impact carbon cycling and greenhouse gas dynamics to predict and model peatland-climate feedbacks. In this study, we detail the above and belowground effects of these PFGs on aspects of carbon cycling using a mesocosm approach. We hypothesized that PFGs capable of aerating the rhizosphere (sedges, horsetails, and grasses) would oxidize the belowground environment supporting higher redox potentials, a favorable environment for decomposition, and higher CO2:CH4 in pore water and gas efflux measurements than PFGs lacking aerenchyma (cinquefoil, unplanted control). Overall, sedges, horsetail and grasses had an oxidizing effect on rhizosphere pore water chemistry, producing an environment more favorable for methanotrophy during the growing season, as supported by an approximate isotopic enrichment of pore water methane (δ13CH4) by 5‰, and isotopic depletion in pore water carbon dioxide (δ13CO2) by 10‰, relative to cinquefoil treatments. Cinquefoil and unplanted control treatments fostered a reducing environment more favorable for methanogenesis. In addition, cinquefoil appeared to slow decomposition in comparison with the other PFGs. These findings, paired with PFG effects on oxidation–reduction potential and CO2 and CH4 production, point to the ability of rich fen plant communities to moderate biogeochemistry, specifically carbon cycling, in response to changing climatic conditions.


Peatlands Carbon cycling Trace gas Vegetation Boreal ecosystems Climate change 



Alaska peatland experiment


Biological index




Carbon dioxide


Dissolved organic carbon


Dissolved organic matter


Electron shuttling capacity


Humification index


Normalized difference vegetation index


Plant functional group


Spectral ratio


Specific ultraviolet absorbance


Tryptophan index


Total nitrogen



The University of Alaska-Fairbanks Institute of Arctic Biology and the Bonanza Creek Long Term Experimental Research station provided both lab space, equipment, and time to this project. Emilia Grzesik, Devan Bruce, and Jamie Ramsey contributed invaluable fieldwork; fluorometric data processing relied upon Matlab and R code written by Karl Meingast. The authors wholeheartedly thank associate editor Sharon Billings and an anonymous reviewer for their time reviewing this article. This project was funded by National Science Foundation grant DEB LTREB 1354370. The APEX site has been supported by National Science Foundation Grants (DEB-0425328, DEB-0724514 and DEB-0830997).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Forest Resources and Environmental ScienceMichigan Technological UniversityHoughtonUSA
  2. 2.Northern Research StationUSDA Forest ServiceHoughtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  4. 4.Schmid College of Science and TechnologyChapman UniversityOrangeUSA

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