Topsoil removal in degraded rich fens : can we force an ecosystem reset?
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Ecological engineering: the journal of ecotechnology. - Amsterdam
, p. 225-232
University of Antwerp
Global land-use intensification and drainage has altered the biogeochemical properties of many peatlands, and concomitant eutrophication has led to a loss of low-competitive fen species. We investigated the hypothesis that removal of a degraded and eutrophied top peat layer, thereby exposing an underlying peat layer, can improve conditions for rich fen restoration. We studied the long-term (318 years) effects of past topsoil removal in six rich fens in Western Europe by comparing topsoil removal plots with (untouched) control plots. Overall, topsoil removal plots were characterized by lower bulk densities and soil nutrient pools of P and KCl-extractable NH4+, while organic matter contents and soil C:N ratios were higher. Pore water concentrations of NO3− and NH4+ also decreased in the topsoil removal plots, while concentrations of base cations (Ca2+, Mg2+, Na+, K+) and HCO3− increased. Furthermore, lower nutrient levels appeared to restrict herb biomass production in the topsoil removal plots, so that optimized light conditions led to the establishment of light-demanding target species and a significant increase in bryophyte cover. Multivariate analysis revealed that most variation in vegetation assembly was due to higher groundwater levels in the topsoil removal plots, closely followed by a higher relative light intensity (RLI) at surface level, lower pore water nutrient (NH4+) concentrations, and higher concentrations of base cations. We conclude that topsoil removal can be an effective mechanism to reset a degraded peatland to its initial state of nutrient limitation, base saturation and high availability of light, thereby improving the conservation prospects of endangered rich fen communities.