Geographical location of the 56 peat bogs in Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland
The biologists studied the effects of climate change and the increase in airborne nitrogen and sulphur by comparing 56 peat bogs across Europe. In each peat bog, they inventoried which plant species occurred in the area. They then analysed the relationships between the species composition, the local climatic conditions and the atmospheric deposition of nitrogen and sulphur. This indicated that there are clear differences in vegetation between individual peat bogs, but remarkably they all displayed similar levels of biodiversity - the number of different species in each area.
Further analysis showed that two clusters of plants can be identified that usually grow together. The difference between the clusters is that they have opposing preferences for certain conditions. One group thrives under higher temperatures and precipitation, while the other prefers slightly lower temperatures and less precipitation. The data showed that the absence of species with certain functions is compensated by the presence of species from the other cluster with the same functions. In this way, the peat bog can continue to function properly even if the plant species composition shifts as a result of environmental change.
500 billion tonnes of carbon
That is good news, considering the estimated 500 billion tonnes of carbon that lies sequestered in peat bogs around the world. However, the continued existence of peat bogs remains vulnerable. Most European peat bogs have either disappeared or been seriously affected by human activity. “It is therefore vital that the existing peat bogs are not damaged by drainage or other major interventions”, according to research leader Prof Jos Verhoeven from Utrecht University.
This study was financed in part by NWO-ALW and the Netherlands Foundation for the Preservation of Irish Bogs, and is part of the BiodivERsA-PEATBOG project, which is financed as an ERA-net project within the European Union’s 6th Framework Programme for Research. In the final phase, Bjorn Robroek received financing from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland and the University of Southampton, United Kingdom.
‘Taxonomic and functional turnover are decoupled in European peat bogs’
Bjorn J. M. Robroek*, Vincent E. J. Jassey, Richard J. Payne, Magalí Martí, Luca Bragazza, Albert Bleeker, Alexandre Buttler, Simon J. M. Caporn, Nancy B. Dise, Jens Kattge, Katarzyna Zając, Bo H. Svensson, Jasper van Ruijven, Jos T. A. Verhoeven*
Nature Communications, 27th October, DOI 10.1038/s41467-017-01350-5
* Affiliated with Utrecht University; Bjorn Robroek has worked at the University of Southampton since March 2017.
Pathways to sustainability
This study is part of the interdisciplinary research programme Pathways to Sustainability of Utrecht University.