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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 16 Jan 2020

Submitted as: research article | 16 Jan 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Vascular plants affect properties and decomposition of moss-dominated peat, particularly at elevated temperatures

Lilli Zeh1, Theresa Marie Igel1, Judith Schellekens2, Juul Limpens3, Luca Bragazza4, and Karsten Kalbitz1 Lilli Zeh et al.
  • 1Soil Resources and Land Use, Institute of Soil Science and Site Ecology, Technische Universität Dresden, Pienner Str. 19, 01737 Tharandt, Germany
  • 2Departamento de Ciência do Solo, Escola Superior de Agricultura ‘‘Luiz de Queiroz” – ESALQ/USP, Av. Pádua Dias 11, Piracicaba, São Paulo, Brazil
  • 3Plant Ecology and Nature Conservation, Wageningen University, Droevendaalse steeg 3a, 6708 PB, Wageningen, The Netherlands
  • 4Agroscope, Plant Production Systems, Route de Duillier 50, P.O. Box 1012, 1260 Nyon, Switzerland

Abstract. Peatlands, storing significant amounts of carbon are extremely vulnerable to climate change. The effects of climate change are projected to lead to a vegetation shift from Sphagnum mosses to sedges and shrubs. Impacts on the present moss-dominated peat remain largely unknown. In this study, we used a multi proxy approach to investigate the influence of contrasting vascular plant types (sedges, shrubs) on peat chemistry and decomposition. Peat cores of 20 cm depth and plant material (Sphagnum spp., Calluna vulgaris, Eriophorum vaginatum) from two ombrotrophic peatlands in the Italian Alps with a mean annual temperature difference of 1.4 °C were analysed. Peat cores were taken under adjacent shrub and sedge plants growing at the same height above the water table. We used carbon, nitrogen and their stable isotopes to assess general patterns in the degree of decomposition across sampling locations and depths. In addition, analytical pyrolysis was applied to disentangle effects of vascular plants (sedge, shrub) on chemical properties and decomposition of the moss-dominated peat. Pyrolysis data confirmed that Sphagnum moss dominated the present peat irrespectively of depth. Nevertheless, vascular plants contributed to peat properties as revealed by e.g. pyrolysis products of lignin. The degree of peat decomposition increased with depth as shown by e.g. decreasing amounts of the pyrolysis product of sphagnum acid and increasing δ13C with depth. Multiple parameters also revealed a higher degree of decomposition of Sphagnum-dominated peat collected under sedges than under shrubs, particularly at the high temperature site. Surprisingly, temperature effects on peat decomposition were less pronounced than those of sedges. Our results imply that vascular plants affect the decomposition of the existing peat formed by Sphagnum, particularly at elevated temperature. These results suggest that changes in plant functional types may have a stronger impact on the soil carbon feedback in a warmer world than hitherto assumed.

Lilli Zeh et al.

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Lilli Zeh et al.

Lilli Zeh et al.


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