Resource contrast in patterned peatlands increases along a climatic gradient

M.B. Eppinga, M. Rietkerk, L.R. Belyea, M.B. Nilsson, P.C. de Ruiter, M.J. Wassen

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35 Citations (Scopus)


Spatial patterning of ecosystems can be explained by several mechanisms. One approach to disentangling the influence of these mechanisms is to study a patterned ecosystem along a gradient of environmental conditions. This study focused on hummock–hollow patterning of peatlands. Previous models predicted that patterning in drainage-dominated peatlands is driven by a peat-accumulation mechanism, reflected by higher nutrient availability in hollows relative to hummocks. Alternatively, patterning in evapotranspiration (ET)-dominated peatlands may be driven by a nutrient-accumulation mechanism, reflected by reversed nutrient distribution, namely, higher nutrient availability in hummocks relative to hollows. Here, we tested these predictions by comparing nutrient distributions among patterned peatlands in maritime (Scotland), humid temperate (Sweden), and humid continental (Siberia) climates. The areas comprise a climatic gradient from very wet and drainage-dominated (Scotland) to less wet and ET-dominated (Siberia) peatlands. Nutrient distribution was quantified as resource contrast, a measure for hummock–hollow difference in nutrient availability. We tested the hypothesis that the climatic gradient shows a trend in the resource contrast; from negative (highest nutrient availability in hollows) in Scotland to positive (highest nutrient availability in hummocks) in Siberia. The resource contrasts as measured in vegetation indeed showed a trend along the climatic gradient: contrasts were negative to slightly positive in Scotland, positive in Sweden, and strongly positive in Siberia. This finding corroborates the main prediction of previous models. Our results, however, also provided indications for further model development. The low concentrations of nutrients in the water suggest that existing models could be improved by considering both the dissolved and adsorbed phase and explicit inclusion of both nutrient-uptake and nutrient-storage processes. Our study suggests that future climate change may affect the ecosystem functioning of patterned peatlands by altering the contribution of pattern-forming mechanisms to redistribution of water and nutrients within these systems
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2344-2355
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • boreal mire
  • ecosystems
  • phosphorus
  • vegetation
  • nitrogen
  • wetlands
  • bog
  • plants
  • temperature
  • mechanisms

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