Drivers of decomposition across Sphagnum bog margins
Abstract: Peatlands provide multiple ecosystem services, including extensive carbon sequestration and storage, yet many peatlands have been degraded or destroyed. Peatlands carbon storage capacity is connected to inherently low decomposition rates, causing the build-up of organic matter. Reasons suggested for this include waterlogged conditions that reduce the amount of available oxygen for the decomposer community, a low pH that inhibits bacterial decomposition, and colder temperatures lowering metabolic rates. This study focused on edge effects on decomposition in the transition zone between Sphagnum bogs and surrounding forest, with the expectation that decomposition is lowest in the bog and highest in the forest, but with a mix of factors causing intermediate decomposition rates near the bog edge. Transitional decomposition rates were measured across six bogs in central Sweden during the summer of 2021, using the tea bag index. Three 20 meter transects, each containing seven pairs of tea bags, were buried across the margins of each bog, centred at the edge of the Sphagnum moss. Soil moisture content, pH, and plant composition was also recorded at each burial site, and with 12 temperature loggers placed evenly among four of the bogs. The results confirmed the hypothesis regarding edge effects, and soil moisture was the dominant factor affecting the decomposition rate, having a strong significant negative correlation. The interaction of pH was significant but with an unexpected negative correlation, most likely due to the low pH in the surrounding forest. Temperature displayed no significance, and plants indicative of low decomposition rates included Vaccinium oxycoccos, Drosera rotundifolia, and especially Sphagnum species. The conclusions are that there is an edge effect on decomposition, and maintaining, or restoring, the hydrology of a peatland is the most important factor for continued carbon storage, with a rough estimation of an areas decomposition rate possible to estimate based on its vegetation.
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