Peatlands

What are peatlands?

Peatland is a terrestrial wetland ecosystem in which the production of organic matter exceeds its decomposition and a net accumulation of peat results.

Peatlands occur in every climatic zone and continent. The total area globally is around 4 million km2 making them 70% of natural freshwater wetland or 3% of the Earth’s land surface.

Peatlands include landscapes that are still actively accumulating peat (mires), others that are no longer accumulating and do not support the principal peat forming plants (e.g. Sphagnum spp.), and peatland used for economic uses such as agriculture, forestry and excavation for energy generation, horticulture and a few other…

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Where can peatlands be found?

The distribution of peatlands globally follows that of wetlands generally.

The largest known concentrations of peatland are found in Canada and Alaska, Northern Europe and Western Siberia, Southeast Asia, and parts of the Amazon basin, where more than 10% of the land area is covered with peatlands.

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Functions of Peatlands

According to the “Wise Use of Mires and Peatlands” by Donal Clarke and Hans Joosten (2002), the following functions of mires and peatlands can be identified:

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Types of peatlands

Countries classify their peatlands differently, but most agree on two main classes: bogs and fens (with some swamps being a third).

Most commonly known special peatland types are e.g. aapa mires, blanket bogs, palsa mires, spring fens, and tropical peat swamp forest. Many languages have special peatland expressions with even regional differences.

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Mire classification and typology

The classification of mires is confusing not only because of major regional differences but also different criteria have been used which vary in space and time and therefore represent continua of change rather than discrete differences.

There are numerous accounts of different approaches to classification of mires on a country and regional basis according to different typologies.

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Ecosystem services

Peatland ecosystem services are the benefits that people obtain from peatland.

Kimmel and Mander (2010) offered a summary of peatland ecosystem services and examples of relevant beneficial functions adapted from the Millennium ecosystem assessment (2005) and Joosten and Clarke (2002):

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Peatlands and Biodiversity

The term biodiversity is used to describe the variety of all life on earth including all plants and animals, and the ecosystems which sustain them.

Peatlands sustain a rich and unique range of habitats and species across the world. At the level of individual peatland sites the diversity of organisms can be exceptional.

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Peatlands and Climate

Peatlands interact with climate through the uptake and release of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Since peatlands store large amounts of organic matter in their soils, they represent stores of carbon.

This carbon has been taken out of the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2) by peatland plants in the process of photosynthesis.

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Peatland Restoration

Peatland Restoration is a term used to describe management measures that aim to restore the original form and function of peatland habitats to favourable conservation status.

The principal activity involved in restoration is management of site hydrology which in turn helps to control emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

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Agriculture on Peatlands

Approximately 14% of European peatlands are currently used for agriculture. Large areas are found in Russia, Germany , Belarus, Poland and Ukraine.

In Canada is it estimated that 40 thousand hectares of peatlands are under cultivation. Over 230 thousand hectares of fen peatlands are cultivated in the Florida Everglades.

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Forestry on Peatlands

From the forestry point of view, peatlands have two main features that make timber production more challenging than in non-peated mineral soil sites.

The most evident is the high water content in the soil. The other is soil nutrient status, which is generally sufficient with nitrogen but deficient with phosphorus, potassium and some micronutrients.

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Wise Use of Peatlands

Wise Use of peatlands can be described as the uses of peatlands for which reasonable people now and in the future will not attribute blame.

IPS has developed a framework for Wise Use to resolve conflicts between different values and uses of mires and peatlands.

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Responsible Management

Responsible peatland management means undertaking activities in a transparent and accountable manner, following ethical and humanitarian principles applied in ways that promote stewardship of the peatland resource that will be acceptable to future generations.

A Strategy for Responsible Peatland Management (SRPM) implementation was published by the International Peatland Society in 2010 following discussions and contributions involving more than 100 peatland and peat stakeholders from many countries.

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Peatlands and Society

People utilize peatlands in many different ways and peatlands mean different things to different people.

Tropical and temperate peatlands have vastly different uses, histories and contemporary threats.

The social and cultural perspectives of peatlands must be understood in order for these values of peatlands to be acknowledged in decision making for peatland management.

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