1Nature Conservation and Plant Ecology Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands
2Limnological Research Station and Department of Hydrology, University of Bayreuth, 95440 Bayreuth, Germany
3Global Carbon Project, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, GPO Box 3023, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia
4School of Biological Sciences, Bangor University, Wales, LL57 2UW, UK
5School of Geography, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK
6Department of Geography, McGill University, 805, Sherbrooke Street West, Montréal, Québec, H3A 2K6, Canada
7Department of Plant Ecology, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala University, Villavägen 14, 752 36 Uppsala, Sweden
Abstract. Although peatlands cover only 3% of the Earth's land surface, boreal and subarctic peatlands store about 15–30% of the world's soil carbon as peat. Despite their potential for large positive feedbacks to the climate system through sequestration and emission of greenhouse gases, peatlands are not explicitly included in global climate models and therefore in predictions of future climate change. In April 2007 a symposium was held in Wageningen, the Netherlands, to advance our understanding of peatland C cycling through integration across disciplines and research approaches and to develop a more synthetic picture of the present and future role of peatlands in the global C cycle and their interactions with the climate system. This paper aims to synthesize the main findings of the symposium, focusing on (i) small-scale processes, (ii) C fluxes at the landscape scale, and (iii) peatlands and climate. The paper concludes with a summary of the main drivers of the C balance of peatlands, and proposes directions for new research to reduce key uncertainties in our knowledge of C cycling in peatlands in order to facilitate the explicit inclusion of these ecosystems in a new generation of earth system models.