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Ecology. 2010 Oct;91(10):3047-56.

Rapid ecosystem shifts in peatlands: linking plant physiology and succession.

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  • 1Department of Plant Ecology, Evolutionary Biology Center, Uppsala University, Norbyv√§gen 18D, SE-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden. Gustaf.Granath@ebc.uu.se

Abstract

Stratigraphic records from peatlands suggest that the shift from a rich fen (calcareous fen) to an ombrotrophic bog can occur rapidly. This shift constitutes a switch from a species-rich ecosystem to a species-poor one with greater carbon storage. In this process, the invasion and expansion of acidifying bog species of Sphagnum (peat mosses) play a key role. To test under what conditions an acidifying bog species could invade a rich fen, we conducted three experiments, contrasting the bog species S. fucsum with the rich-fen species S. warnstorfii and S. teres. We first tested the effect of calcareous water by growing the three species at different constant height above the water table (HWT; 2, 7, and 14 cm) in a rich-fen pool and measured maximum photosynthetic rate and production and difference in length growth as an indicator of competition. In none of the species was the photosynthetic capacity negatively affected when placed at low HWT, but S. fuscum was a weaker competitor at low HWT. In our second experiment we transplanted the three species into microhabitats with different and naturally varying HWT in a rich fen. Here, S. fuscum nearly ceased to photosynthesize when transplanted to low HWT (brown moss carpet), while it performed similarly to the two rich-fen species at the intermediate level (S. warnstorfii hummock level). In contrast to S. fuscum, the rich-fen sphagna performed equally well in both habitats. The brown moss carpet was seasonally flooded, and in our third experiment we found that S. fuscum, but not S. teres, was severely damaged when submerged in rich-fen water. Our results suggest two thresholds in HWT affecting the ecosystem switch: one level that reduces the risk of submergence and a higher one that makes bog sphagna competitive against the rich-fen species.

PMID:
21058564
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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