Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Applied Ecology (MS)

College, School or Department Name

School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


Evan S Kane


Randy Kolka


Northern wetlands, and particularly peatlands, have been shown to store around 30% of the world's soil carbon and thus play a significant role in the carbon cycle of our planet. Changes in climate are altering peatland hydrology and vegetation communities. These changes are possibly resulting in declines in the ability of peatlands to sequester carbon because losses through carbon oxidation and mineralization are likely to increase relative to C inputs from net primary production in a warmer, drier climate. However, the consequences of interactive effects of altered hydrology and vegetation on carbon storage are not well understood. This research evaluated the importance of plant species, water table, and their interactive effects on porewater quality in a northern peatland with an average pH of 4.54, ranging from 4.15 to 4.8. We assessed the effects of plant functional group (ericaceous shrubs, sedges, and bryophytes) and water table position on biogeochemical processes. Specifically, we measured dissolved organic carbon (DOC), total dissolved nitrogen (TDN), potential enzyme activity, organic acids, anions and cations, spectral indexes of aromaticity, and phenolic content. Our results indicate that acetate and propionate concentrations in the sedge-dominated communities declined with depth and water table drawdown, relative to the control and ericaceous treatments. DOC increased in the lowered water table treatments in all vegetation community types, and the peat porewater C:N ratio declined in the sedge-dominated treatments when the water table was lowered. The relationship between DOC and ferrous iron showed significant responses to vegetation type; the exclusion of Ericaceae resulted in less ferrous iron per unit DOC compared to mixed species treatments and Ericaceae alone. This observation was corroborated with higher mean oxidation redox potential profiles (integrating 20, 40, and 70 cm) measured in the sedge treatments, compared with the mixed and Ericaceae species treatments over a growing season. Enzymatic activities did not show as strong of a response to treatments as expected; the oxidative enzyme peroxidase and the hydrolytic enzyme phosphatase were the only enzymes to respond to water table, where the potential activity of both enzymes increased with water table drawdown. Overall, there were significant interactive effects between changes in vegetation and water table position on peat porewater composition. These data suggest that vegetation effects on oxidation reduction potentials and peat porewater character can be as important as water table position in northern bog ecosystems.