Emerging forest–peatland bistability and resilience of European peatland carbon stores

Ype van der Velde*, Arnaud J.A.M. Temme, Jelmer J. Nijp, Maarten C. Braakhekke, George A.K. van Voorn, Stefan C. Dekker, A. Johannes Dolman, Jakob Wallinga, Kevin J. Devito, Nicholas Kettridge, Carl A. Mendoza, Lammert Kooistra, Merel B. Soons, Adriaan J. Teuling

*Corresponding author for this work

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Northern peatlands store large amounts of carbon. Observations indicate that forests and peatlands in northern biomes can be alternative stable states for a range of landscape settings. Climatic and hydrological changes may reduce the resilience of peatlands and forests, induce persistent shifts between these states, and release the carbon stored in peatlands. Here, we present a dynamic simulation model constrained and validated by a wide set of observations to quantify how feedbacks in water and carbon cycling control resilience of both peatlands and forests in northern landscapes. Our results show that 34% of Europe (area) has a climate that can currently sustain existing rainwater-fed peatlands (raised bogs). However, raised bog initiation and restoration by water conservation measures after the original peat soil has disappeared is only possible in 10% of Europe where the climate allows raised bogs to initiate and outcompete forests. Moreover, in another 10% of Europe, existing raised bogs (concerning ∼20% of the European raised bogs) are already affected by ongoing climate change. Here, forests may overgrow peatlands, which could potentially release in the order of 4% (∼24 Pg carbon) of the European soil organic carbon pool. Our study demonstrates quantitatively that preserving and restoring peatlands requires looking beyond peatland-specific processes and taking into account wider landscape-scale feedbacks with forest ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2101742118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number38
Publication statusPublished - 21 Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Y.v.d.V. and J.J.N. gratefully acknowledge support for this study from the graduate school for Production Ecology and Resource Conservation of Wageningen University. Further, Y.v.d.V. and N.K. acknowledge support from the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (grant 2020-CCRP-MS.70). A.J.D. acknowledges support from the Netherlands Earth System Science Center (NESSC) through Gravitation (grant 024.002.001) from the Dutch Ministry for Education, Culture and Science. This work was carried out on the Dutch national e-infrastructure with the support of SURF Cooperative. We thank A. Beaudoin, M. Thurner, K. Webster, C. Williams, A. Gallego-Sala, and D. McKenney for providing datasets for model validation.


  • Peatlands
  • Resilience
  • Water–carbon feedbacks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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