Linking habitat modification to catastrophic shifts and vegetation patterns in bogs

M.B. Eppinga, M. Rietkerk, M.J. Wassen, P.C. de Ruiter

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72 Citations (Scopus)


Paleoecological studies indicate that peatland ecosystems may exhibit bistability. This would mean that these systems are resilient to gradual changes in climate, until environmental thresholds are passed. Then, ecosystem stability is lost and rapid shifts in surface and vegetation structure at landscape scale occur. Another remarkable feature is the commonly observed self-organized spatial vegetation patterning, such as string-flark and maze patterns. Bistability and spatial self-organization may be mechanistically linked, the crucial mechanism being scale-dependent (locally positive and longer-range negative) feedback between vegetation and the peatland environment. Focusing on bogs, a previous model study shows that nutrient accumulation by vascular plants can induce such scale-dependent feedback driving pattern formation. However, stability of bog microforms such as hummocks and hollows has been attributed to different local interactions between Sphagnum, vascular plants, and the bog environment. Here we analyze both local and longer-range interactions in bogs to investigate the possible contribution of these different interactions to vegetation patterning and stability. This is done by a literature review, and subsequently these findings are incorporated in the original model. When Sphagnum and encompassing local interactions are included in this model, the boundaries between vegetation types become sharper and also the parameter region of bistability drastically increases. These results imply that vegetation patterning and stability of bogs could be synergistically governed by local and longer-range interactions. Studying the relative effect of these interactions is therefore suggested to be an important component of future predictions on the response of peatland ecosystems to climatic changes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-68
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • increased n deposition
  • vascular plants
  • self-organization
  • simulation-model
  • boreal peatlands
  • sphagnum mosses
  • peat formation
  • climate-change
  • raised bogs
  • water-level

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