Articles | Volume 13, issue 13
Research article
08 Jul 2016
Research article |  | 08 Jul 2016

Water level, vegetation composition, and plant productivity explain greenhouse gas fluxes in temperate cutover fens after inundation

Merten Minke, Jürgen Augustin, Andrei Burlo, Tatsiana Yarmashuk, Hanna Chuvashova, Annett Thiele, Annette Freibauer, Vitalij Tikhonov, and Mathias Hoffmann

Abstract. Peat extraction leaves a land surface with a strong relief of deep cutover areas and higher ridges. Rewetting inundates the deep parts, while less deeply extracted zones remain at or above the water level. In temperate fens the flooded areas are colonized by helophytes such as Eriophorum angustifolium, Carex spp., Typha latifolia or Phragmites australis dependent on water depth. Reeds of Typha and Phragmites are reported as large sources of methane, but data on net CO2 uptake are contradictory for Typha and rare for Phragmites. Here, we analyze the effect of vegetation, water level and nutrient conditions on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for representative vegetation types along water level gradients at two rewetted cutover fens (mesotrophic and eutrophic) in Belarus. Greenhouse gas emissions were measured campaign-wise with manual chambers every 2 to 4 weeks for 2 years and interpolated by modelling.

All sites had negligible nitrous oxide exchange rates. Most sites were carbon sinks and small GHG sources. Methane emissions generally increased with net ecosystem CO2 uptake. Mesotrophic small sedge reeds with water table around the land surface were small GHG sources in the range of 2.3 to 4.2 t CO2 eq. ha−1 yr−1. Eutrophic tall sedge – Typha latifolia reeds on newly formed floating mats were substantial net GHG emitters in the range of 25.1 to 39.1 t CO2 eq. ha−1 yr. They represent transient vegetation stages. Phragmites reeds ranged between −1.7 to 4.2 t CO2 eq. ha−1 yr−1 with an overall mean GHG emission of 1.3 t CO2 eq. ha−1 yr−1. The annual CO2 balance was best explained by vegetation biomass, which includes the role of vegetation composition and species. Methane emissions were obviously driven by biological activity of vegetation and soil organisms.

Shallow flooding of cutover temperate fens is a suitable measure to arrive at low GHG emissions. Phragmites australis establishment should be promoted in deeper flooded areas and will lead to moderate, but variable GHG emissions or even occasional sinks. The risk of large GHG emissions is higher for eutrophic than mesotrophic peatlands. Nevertheless, flooding of eutrophic temperate fens still represents a safe GHG mitigation option because even the hotspot of our study, the floating tall sedge – Typha latifolia reeds, did not exceed the typical range of GHG emissions from drained fen grasslands and the spatially dominant Phragmites australis reed emitted by far less GHG than drained fens.

Short summary
We studied GHG emissions along water-level gradients of two inundated cutover fens with closed chambers. N2O fluxes were negligible. CO2 and CH4 fluxes were controlled by vegetation composition and plant productivity, which in turn depended on water level and nutrient conditions. CH4 fluxes from mesotrophic sites were low and largely compensated for by CO2 uptake. Eutrophic sites were strong CH4 sources, and GHG balances depended on the plant's net C sink, which strongly differed between species.
Final-revised paper