Drainage Reduces the Resilience of a Boreal Peatland
Peatlands are incredibly resilient ecosystems but drier conditions, due to drainage for industrial development or climate warming, can affect their ability to adapt to environmental stresses. Biological and hydrological feedbacks maintain peatlands and their carbon storage functions; however, their resiliency to these changes is unknown. Harris et al. (2020) explored the implications of peatland drainage on the resiliency of peatlands by assessing their ability to act as carbon sinks by comparing plant production, water table level, and surface moisture content between a drained peatland and an undisturbed peatland in the Hudson Bay Lowland.
Harris et al. found that the water table at the drained sites was approximately 70 cm lower than at the undisturbed site causing a significant decrease in plant production, specifically in Sphagnum spp. The reduction in Sphagnum spp. reduced the surface moisture at the site and reduced the site's ability to act as a carbon sink when bare peat is left exposed. The relationship between the three influences suggests that drainage negatively impacts peat production and risks mass carbon loss due to changes in ecosystem function. Learn more here.