A comparative study of within-basin and regional peatland development: Implications for peatland carbon dynamics

Alex W. Ireland, Robert K. Booth, Sara C. Hotchkiss, Jennifer E. Schmitz

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11 Scopus citations


Northern peatlands are among the most carbon-rich ecosystems on Earth, but many unanswered questions remain regarding linkages between their long-term developmental processes and climatic variability. In this paper, we present a detailed paleoecological reconstruction of the developmental history of a kettle peatland in northern Wisconsin, USA (Fallison Bog) based on 21 coring locations and temporally constrained by 69 radiocarbon dates. This record of within-basin developmental history is compared to a regional dataset containing estimated ages of peatland establishment for 75 core samples collected from 37 depressional peatlands throughout the Great Lakes Region. Finally, our data are used to develop a spatially explicit model of whole-system carbon accumulation in Fallison Bog, which distinguishes between carbon pools stored in limnic sediments and peat deposits. Results indicate that peatland development in Fallison Bog was episodic and spatially complex. Peatland development was related to the morphology of the underlying basin and characterized by pulses of both terrestrialization and paludification. Major episodes of terrestrialization centered on 4980 and 3180 years before A.D. 1850 (cal yr BP), with less extensive episodes occurring around 3840, 1060, 670, and 410 cal yr BP. Extensive peatland area developed by paludification of shallow portions of the basin around 2040 cal yr BP. The timing of peatland development within Fallison Bog was correlated with the timing of peatland development in other depressional peatlands across the Great Lakes Region (r = 0.70), suggesting a common climatic driver. Comparison of peatland development in Fallison Bog and independent paleoclimate records suggested that both millennial-scale and sub-centennial-scale variability in moisture balance influenced spatiotemporal patterns of peatland development. Model results indicated that Fallison Bog accumulated ∼6655 t of carbon during the Holocene, with 66% of this total stored in peat deposits that have accumulated in only the last ∼5000 years. Collectively, model results and the strong correlation between the timing of within-basin and regional pulses of peatland establishment imply that depressional peatlands likely experienced climate-sensitive and episodic changes in carbon accumulation rates during the Holocene, and similar dynamics could be expected in response to ongoing and future climatic change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-95
Number of pages11
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - Feb 1 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the National Science Foundation under grant numbers DEB 1118676 and DEB 101224 . Additional support was provided by a cooperative agreement between Lehigh University and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) under USGS Agreement 06ERAG0019 and by grant 9637-11 awarded to AWI by the Geological Society of America. LacCore personnel sampled core 21 for loss-on-ignition and isolated pollen samples for 14 C dating. Molly O’Neil, Adam Kaufman, and Natalie Frendberg provided valuable assistance in the laboratory. Earlier versions of this manuscript were improved by the insightful comments of Daniel Charman, Frank Pazzaglia, Zicheng Yu, and two anonymous reviewers.

Copyright 2013 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Agent-based modeling
  • Carbon accumulation
  • Climate change
  • Geomorphology
  • Glacial kettles
  • Hydrology
  • Macrofossils

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