Nutrients and Hydrology Indicate the Driving Mechanisms of Peatland Surface Patterning

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

101 Citations (Scopus)


Peatland surface patterning motivates studies that identify underlying structuring mechanisms. Theoretical studies so far suggest that different mechanisms may drive similar types of patterning. The long time span associated with peatland surface pattern formation, however, limits possibilities for empirically testing model predictions by field manipulations. Here, we present a model that describes spatial interactions between vegetation, nutrients, hydrology, and peat. We used this model to study pattern formation as driven by three different mechanisms: peat accumulation, water ponding, and nutrient accumulation. By on-and-off switching of each mechanism, we created a full-factorial design to see how these mechanisms affected surface patterning (pattern of vegetation and peat height) and underlying patterns in nutrients and hydrology. Results revealed that different combinations of structuring mechanisms lead to similar types of peatland surface patterning but contrasting underlying patterns in nutrients and hydrology. These contrasting underlying patterns suggest that the presence or absence of the structuring mechanisms can be identified by relatively simple short-term field measurements of nutrients and hydrology, meaning that longer-term field manipulations can be circumvented. Therefore, this study provides promising avenues for future empirical studies on peatland patterning
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)803-818
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • self-organization
  • simulation-model
  • boreal peatlands
  • mire ecosystems
  • arid ecosystems
  • raised bog
  • vegetation
  • landscape
  • scale
  • water


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