Hydrologic Regime and Soil Property Interactions in a Degraded Forested Peatland

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Clayton Word , Daniel McLaughlin , Brian Strahm, Ryan Stewart, J. Morgan Varner, Trevor Amestoy

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Globally, peatlands are vulnerable to degradation via drainage, resulting in increased fire vulnerability and peat soil oxidation. Peatland function is largely dependent on hydrologic regimes and their influences on peat soil accumulation and properties. As such, an understanding of soil-hydrology interactions is needed to inform hydrologic management and fire prediction. The Great Dismal Swamp, a drained peatland (Virginia, North Carolina, USA), is currently undergoing hydrologic restoration to raise water levels, reduce fire vulnerability, and increase carbon sequestration. Two physically distinct peat layers have been observed at the Great Dismal Swamp, the upper layer thought to be a result of past drainage and the lower more representative of an undisturbed state. To understand the occurrence and consequences of these distinct layers, we integrated measurements of continuous water levels, peat properties, and layer depths at 16 sites that varied in water level regimes. For each site, we sampled peat from both layers, assessed their physical and water retention properties, and related depth profiles to water level regimes observed over 2.5 years. We found distinct differences between the two layers, where upper layers had higher bulk densities and lower fiber content. Further, upper layers had higher macroporosity and overall lower water retention, suggesting the upper layer is more vulnerable to dry conditions, fire risk, and soil oxidation. The transition from upper to lower layers typically occurred at depths below water level observations, suggesting that upper peat may have resulted from historical drainage with limited recovery following hydrologic restoration and increased water levels.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program