Peatlands

Authored by: Dale H. Vitt , Paul Short

Wetlands and Habitats

Print publication date:  June  2020
Online publication date:  May  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138334199
eBook ISBN: 9780429445507
Adobe ISBN:

10.1201/9780429445507-5

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Abstract

Peatlands occupy only 3% of the global terrestrial surface, but hold 10% of the world’s drinking water, and contain a thick layer of peat that stores about one-third of the Earth’s soil carbon (about equal to the total CO2 in the atmosphere) and 10% of the world’s soil nitrogen. It is estimated that peatlands in tropical areas contain approximately 17–19% of the global peat carbon pool. Peatlands act as watershed filters and serve as habitat for a wide array of species. Fungi are common and abundant and insects are diverse, but little studied. Plant diversity is low, but includes a number of rare and uncommon species. Peat has long been used as a soil amendment, and the harvesting of peat moss is a small, but important industry where peatlands are abundant. Canada is a leading producer of commercial peat moss, and the industry maintains a view of responsible environmental management that strives to restore peatlands to their before-harvest condition. Additionally, peatlands are managed for enhanced tree growth through drainage and fertilization in some countries. While peat is harvested for electrical generation in a few northern countries, tropical swamp forests are currently being logged and converted to rice fields or palm oil plantations, resulting in a dramatic loss of carbon stored in these peatlands. Peatlands contain a large, unstable stockpile of carbon that is sensitive to both climatic and anthropogenic disturbances. These disturbances have the potential to change the long-term peatland carbon sink into a source of carbon to the atmosphere; thus, widespread use, especially conservation, of our peatland resources should be a priority.

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