Assessing the peatland hummock-hollow classification framework using high-resolution elevation models: Implications for appropriate complexity ecosystem modeling

Paul A. Moore*, Maxwell C. Lukenbach, Nick Kettridge, Gustaf Granath, James M. Waddington, Daniel K. Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


The hummock-hollow classification framework used to categorize peatland ecosystem microtopography is pervasive throughout peatland experimental designs and current peatland ecosystem modeling approaches. However, identifying what constitutes a representative hummock-hollow pair within a site and characterizing hummock-hollow variability within or between peatlands remains largely unassessed. Using structure from motion (SfM), high-resolution digital elevation models (DEMs) of hummock-hollow microtopography were used to (1) examine how much area needs to be sampled to characterize sitelevel microtopographic variation; and (2) examine the potential role of microtopographic shape/structure on biogeochemical fluxes using plot-level data from nine northern peatlands. To capture 95% of site-level microtopographic variability, on average, an aggregate sampling area of 32m2 composed of 10 randomly located plots was required. Both site-(i.e.Transect data) and plot-level (i.e. SfM-derived DEM) results show that microtopographic variability can be described as a fractal at the submeter scale, where contributions to total variance are very small below a 0.5m length scale. Microtopography at the plot level was often found to be non-bimodal, as assessed using a Gaussian mixture model (GMM). Our findings suggest that the non-bimodal distribution of microtopography at the plot level may result in an undersampling of intermediate topographic positions. Extended to the modeling domain, an underrepresentation of intermediate microtopographic positions is shown to lead to potentially large flux biases over a wide range of water table positions for ecosystem processes which are non-linearly related to water and energy availability at the moss surface. Moreover, our simple modeling results suggest that much of the bias can be eliminated by representing microtopography with several classes rather than the traditional two (i.e. hummock/ hollow). A range of tools examined herein can be used to easily parameterize peatland models, from GMMs used as simple transfer functions to spatially explicit fractal landscapes based on simple power-law relations between microtopographic variability and scale.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3491-3506
Number of pages16
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sept 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (grant no. 203372).

Funding Information:
Financial support. This research has been supported by the Natural

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements. We would like to thank James Sherwood and Paul Morris for valuable conversations regarding the feasibility of this study and early discussions regarding research design. We thank Lorna Harris for comments on an earlier draft of this paper. We also thank Tom Ulanowski for data collection for the James Bay site, Rebekah Ingram and Kristyn Mayner for data collection at the Red Earth Creek site, Mandy MacDougall, Alanna Smolarz, and Alex Furukawa for assistance with the Nobel data collection and analysis, and Lee Slater for data collection in Maine. Finally, we would like to thank Andreas Ibrom, Lars Kutzbach, and an anonymous reviewer for valuable comments and suggestions which helped to improve the manuscript. This research was supported by a NSERC Discovery Grant and NSERC Discovery Accelerator Supplement to James M. Waddington.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Author(s).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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