Influence of climate change factors on carbon dynamics in northern forested peatlands
Peatlands are carbon-accumulating wetland ecosystems, developed through an imbalance among organic matter production and decomposition processes. Soil saturation is the principal cause of anoxic conditions that constrain organic matter decay. Accordingly, changes in the hydrologic regime will affect the carbon (C) dynamics in forested peatlands. Our objective is to review ecological studies and experiments on managed peatlands that provide a basis for assessing the effects of an altered hydrology on C dynamics. We conclude that climate change influences will be mediated primarily through the hydrologic cycle. A lower water table resulting from altered precipitation patterns and increased atmospheric temperature may be expected to decrease soil CH4 and increase C02 emissions from the peat surface. Correspondingly, the C balance in forested peatlands is also sensitive to management and restoration prescriptions. Increases in soil C02 efflux do not necessarily equate with net losses from the soil C pool. While the fundamentals of the C balance in peatlands are well-established, the combined affects of global change stressors and management practices are best considered using process-based biogeochemical models. Long-term studies are needed both for validation and to provide a framework for longitudinal assessments of the peatland C cycle.