An evaluation of the water balance and moisture dynamics within Sphagnum mosses following the restoration (rewetting) of an abandoned block-cut bog
Ketcheson, Scott James
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Artificial drainage networks established throughout peatlands during the peat extraction process often remain active following abandonment, maintaining a water table relatively far from the surface of the peat and hindering the survival and reestablishment of Sphagnum mosses. Since cutover peatlands are characterized by low (negative) soil water pressures, sufficient internal water storage and balanced water fluxes are critical for the physiological function of spontaneously regenerated Sphagnum mosses. The relative importance of water exchanges between spontaneously regenerated Sphagnum moss cushions and their surroundings are addressed through investigation of the sensitivity of moss moisture dynamics to a range of environmental variables. Precipitation waters are poorly retained within the cushions, which indicated that rain event water can only be relied upon by the mosses for a short period of time. An imbalance between water inputs and losses from moss cushions identified that additional (small) sources of water, such as dewfall and distillation, are potentially important for physiological processes under dry conditions, common in disturbed peatland ecosystems. As an initial restoration effort, rewetting of the peatland by blocking drainage ditches consequently reduced the runoff efficiency and caused the site-average water table to rise by 32 cm. Higher water tables and a blocked drainage network created conditions more favourable for Sphagnum survival through increasing the moisture content and soil-water pressures within the remnant peat deposit. The hydrologic connectivity between moss cushions and the remnant peat was strong when conditions were wet and the water table was within 30 cm of the surface of the cutover peat but weakened as conditions became drier, as reflected by weakened upward hydraulic gradients in the unsaturated zone below the moss cushions. Runoff variability increased following rewetting, and displayed a greater dependence upon antecedent conditions (capacity to retain additional water on-site) and event-based precipitation dynamics. Evapotranspiration rates were 25% higher following rewetting (3.6 mm day-1) compared to pre-restoration ET rates of 2.7 mm day-1. Total storage changes were restricted following rewetting, as a factor of the reduced runoff losses limiting water table drawdown, thereby constraining peat compression and preventing undue drying of the unsaturated zone. Changes to the system hydrology following rewetting of the peatland by blocking drainage ditches created conditions more favourable for Sphagnum survival through increasing the moisture content and soil-water pressures within the remnant peat deposit; although restoration efforts should aim to constrain water table fluctuations to within the upper 30 cm.