There have been widespread attempts to rewet peatlands in Europe and elsewhere in the world to restore their unique biodiversity as well as their important function as nutrient and carbon sinks. However, changes in hydrological regime and therefore oxygen availability likely alter the
abundance of enzyme-inhibiting polyphenolic compounds, which have been suggested as a "latch" preventing large amounts of carbon from being released into the atmosphere by microbial mineralization. In recent years, a variety of factors have been identified that appear to weaken that latch including not only oxygen, but also pH. In minerotrophic fens, it is unknown if long-term peat
mineralization during decades of drainage and intense agricultural use causes an enrichment or a
decline of enzyme-inhibiting polyphenols. To address this, we collected peat samples and fresh roots of dominating plants (i.e., the peat parent material) from the upper 20 cm peat layer in 5 rewetted and 6 natural fens and quantified total phenolic content as well as hydrolysable and condensed tannins. Polyphenols from less decomposed peat and living roots served partly as an internal standard for polyphenol analysis and to run enzyme inhibition tests. As hypothesized, we found the polyphenol content in highly decomposed peat to be 8 times lower than in less decomposed peat, while condensed tannin content was 50 times lower in highly degraded peat. In addition, plant tissue polyphenol contents differed strongly between peat-forming plant species, with the highest amount found in roots of Carex appropinquata at 450 mg g-1 dry mass, and lowest in Sphagnum spp. at 39 mg g-1 dry mass: a 10-fold difference. Despite large and clear differences in peat and porewater chemistry between natural and rewetted sites, enzyme activities determined with Fluorescein diacetate (FDA) hydrolysis and peat degradation were not significantly correlated, indicating no simple linear relationship between polyphenol content and microbial activity. Still, samples with low contents of polyphenols and condensed tannins showed the highest microbial activities as measured with FDA.