Canadian Forest Service Publications

The transition zones (ecotone) between boreal forests and peatlands: modelling water table along a transition zone between upland black spruce forest and poor forested fen in central Saskatchewan. 2013. Dimitrov, D.D.; Bhatti, J.S.; Grant, R.F. Ecological Modelling 274:57-70.

Year: 2013

Issued by: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 35636

Language: English

Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2013.11.030

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Close association between hydrology and ecosystem productivity in boreal transition zones requires that modelling ecosystem productivity in these zones be based on accurate modelling of water table dynamics. We hypothesize that these dynamics are driven by transfers of water through surface and lateral boundaries of transition zones, and that lateral transfers can be calculated from hydraulic gradients with external water tables at upper and lower boundaries. In this study we implement these hypotheses in the ecosys model to simulate water table dynamics along a boreal transition zone (ecotone) in central Saskatchewan, Canada, extending from upland black spruce forest down to a poor forested fen. Simulated water table depths were compared to measured values at upper, middle and lower ecotone positions during the dry year 2003 when peat was dried, the very wet year 2004 when peat was rewetted, and the hydrologically average year 2005 when peat remained wet. These hypotheses enabled ecosys to simulate declines in water table depth with declines in elevation along the ecotone that matched well those observed during each of the three years. Observed:expected plots of modelled vs. measured water table depths at all positions indicated reasonable goodness of fit with slopes (with respect to 1:1 line) and R2 of 0.92 and 0.53 in 2003–2005 period, 0.90 and 0.28 in 2003, 0.81 and 0.51 in 2004, 0.97 and 0.46 in 2005, confirming that our hypotheses enabled changes in water table depths along boreal transition zones to be properly modelled during successively dry, wet and normal years.

Plain Language Summary

Canada’s boreal forest is a major global carbon sink. But how much carbon the forest can remove from the atmosphere is difficult to estimate, as the amount of wood growing in an area can vary widely between upland forests and peatlands. This research is looking at why less wood grows as a landscape changes from forest to peatland, in order to better understand how forests expand or contract as a result of climate change and human activity. Previous studies have shown that a major factor is the water levels (hydrology) within the watershed, with flows of water in the soil affecting ecosystems even in flat areas of central Canada. This report examined how watershed hydrology affects transition zones between boreal forest and peatlands within the same watershed. It used a computer model to simulate the water table dynamics in a transition zone between a black spruce forest and a peatland in central Saskatchewan. The simulations were tested against real measurements during an extremely dry year (2003), an extremely wet year (2004), and a normally wet year (2005). This showed that the computer model was very accurate. These findings are important for future studies to understand the effects of hydrology on carbon and wood production in the transitional ecosystems in the boreal forest.