Contributions of algae to GPP and DOC production in an Alaskan fen: Effects of historical water table manipulations on ecosystem responses to a natural flood

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The role of algae in the metabolism of northern peatlands is largely unknown, as is how algae will respond to the rapid climate change being experienced in this region. In this study, we examined patterns in algal productivity, nutrients, and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) during an uncharacteristically wet summer in an Alaskan rich fen. Our sampling was conducted in three large-scale experimental plots where water table position had been manipulated (including both drying and wetting plots and a control) for the previous 4 years. This study allowed us to explore how much ecosystem memory of the antecedent water table manipulations governed algal responses to natural flooding. Despite no differences in water table position between the manipulated plots at the time of sampling, algal primary productivity was consistently higher in the lowered water table plot compared to the control or raised water table plots. In all plots, algal productivity peaked immediately following seasonal maxima in nutrient concentrations. We found a positive relationship between algal productivity and water-column DOC concentrations (r 2 = 0. 85, P < 0. 001). Using these data, we estimate that algae released approximately 19% of fixed carbon into the water column. Algal exudates were extremely labile in biodegradability assays, decreasing by more than 55% within the first 24 h of incubation. We suggest that algae can be an important component of the photosynthetic community in boreal peatlands and may become increasingly important for energy flow in a more variable climate with more intense droughts and flooding. © 2011 Springer-Verlag.

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