Peat depth as a control on moss water availability under evaporative stress

Simon Dixon, Nicholas Kettridge, Paul A. Moore, Kevin J. Devito, Amey Tilak, Richard Petrone, Carl Mendoza, James Michael Waddington

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Northern peatlands are a vital component of the global carbon cycle, containing large stores of soil organic carbon and acting as a long-term carbon sink. Moss productivity is an important factor in determining whether these wetlands will retain this function under future climatic conditions. Research on unsaturated water flow in peatlands, which controls moss productivity during periods of evaporative stress, has focused on relatively deep bog systems. However, shallower peatlands and marginal connective wetlands can be essential components of many landscape mosaics. In order to better understand factors influencing moss productivity, water balance simulations using Hydrus 1-D were run for different soil profile depths, compositions and antecedent moisture conditions. Our results demonstrate a bimodal distribution of peatland realizations; either primarily conserving water by limiting evapotranspiration or, maximizing moss productivity. For sustained periods of evaporative stress, both deep water storage and a shallow initial water table delay the onset of high vegetative stress, thus maximizing moss productivity. A total depth of sand and peat of 0.8 m is identified as the threshold above which increasing peat depth has no effect on changing vegetative stress response. In contrast, wetlands with shallow peat deposits (less than 0.5 m thick) are least able to buffer prolonged periods of evaporation due to limited labile water storage, and will thus quickly experience vegetative stress and so limit evaporation and conserve water. With a predicted increase in the frequency and size of rain events in continental North America the moss productivity of shallow wetland systems may increase, but also greater moisture availability will increase the likelihood they remain as wetlands in a changing climate.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHydrological Processes
Early online date15 Aug 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Aug 2017


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