Plant Species Effects on the Carbon Storage Capabilities of a Blanket bog Complex

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Plants are known to influence peatland carbon fluxes both i) directly through respiration and ii) by the production of litter and root exudates, which are then broken down by microbes within the peat matrix. In this study we investigated whether three different plant species typical of a UK blanket bog complex - Calluna vulgaris, Juncus effusus and mixed Sphagnum species - influence the carbon sequestering abilities of the peat that they grow in. To quantify this we measured fluxes of soil derived CO2 and CH4, and extractable levels of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and phenolics, from peat samples taken from areas dominated by one of the three plant communities. It was found that there were significant differences between the carbon fluxes from the different sites, which we attributed to changes brought about by the vegetation on the pH, phenolic concentrations and extracellular enzyme activities found in the peat matrix. Peat taken from Sphagnum-dominated areas emitted less CO2 than the other two sample groups, and had lower overall DOC concentrations and phenol oxidase activities. Conversely, Juncus-peat had the highest CO2 and CH4 fluxes, along with the greatest phenol oxidase activities. Taking all the results into consideration the plants were ranked in order of their ability to reduce the loss of carbon from the peat soil within which they were growing: Sphagnum > Calluna > Juncus. These results suggest that plant community structures could be altered in order to maximise a peatland’s ability to be used as a carbon store should they need to be managed as part of a carbon stewardship scheme or a geoengineering project – if this was to be the sole management interest in an area of peatland.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-58
Issue number1
Early online date30 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016
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