Canadian Forest Service Publications

Hydrological feedbacks in northern peatlands. 2014. Waddington, J.M.; Morris, P.J.; Kettridge, N.; Granath, G.; Thompson, D.K.; Moore, P.A. Ecohydrology 8(1):113-127.

Year: 2014

Issued by: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 35493

Language: English

Availability: PDF (download)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1002/eco.1493

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Northern peatlands provide important global and regional ecosystem services (carbon storage, water storage, and biodiversity). However, these ecosystems face increases in the severity, areal extent and frequency of climate-mediated (e.g. wildfire and drought) and land-use change (e.g. drainage, flooding and mining) disturbances that are placing the future security of these critical ecosystem services in doubt. Here, we provide the first detailed synthesis of autogenic hydrological feedbacks that operate within northern peatlands to regulate their response to changes in seasonal water deficit and varying disturbances. We review, synthesize and critique the current process-based understanding and qualitatively assess the relative strengths of these feedbacks for different peatland types within different climate regions. We suggest that understanding the role of hydrological feedbacks in regulating changes in precipitation and temperature are essential for understanding the resistance, resilience and vulnerability of northern peatlands to a changing climate. Finally, we propose that these hydrological feedbacks also represent the foundation of developing an ecohydrological understanding of coupled hydrological, biogeochemical and ecological feedbacks.

Plain Language Summary

In this paper we review the major hydrological feedbacks found in Canadian peatlands. Feedbacks are lumped into two categories: positive feedbacks (self-reinforcing) and negative feedbacks (self-limiting). Major feedbacks are grouped into categories such as those relating to the decay of peat, trees and shrubs, moss growth, and peat compression during a declining water table. The feedbacks are discussed in the context of climate change, where the regulation of a high water table through these feedbacks is essential for maintaining the ecosystem health and carbon storage capacity of this widespread ecosystem. The relevance of these feedbacks to accurate modelling of northern peatlands in global carbon cycling models is also discussed.