Restoring peatlands of the nemoral zone under conditions of varying water supply and quality

DFG / BiodivRestore KN 929/26-1

The regulatory functions of peatlands in water and element cycles, their carbon sink function, and their role in biodiversity conservation have increasingly become the focus of scientific and public debate. Particularly in the course of ongoing climate change, restoring bogs are increasingly exposed to climate extremes, such as drought, with long-lasting effects on both plant and soil communities and, subsequently, on carbon cycling. Thus, climate change adds to existing difficulties and limitations in bog restoration. These problems are also related to poor knowledge of potential indicators of peatland degradation or of restoration success, such as on the dynamics and budgets of gas fluxes, levels of biodiversity, or water budgets. Moreover, peat degradation alters the water holding capacities and reduces the potential to buffer variations in water availability, further constraining rewetting and restoration.
From palaeoecological data, moisture conditions for peat growth, potential resilience to environmental changes as occurred in the past, potential vegetation, and carbon accumulation rates can be inferred as a basis to set restoration targets and trade-offs. Ongoing climate change and more frequent occurrence of heat waves and droughts poses a severe threat particularly to efforts of restoration of bog vegetation, relying on sufficient input of nutrient poor water from rainfall.
The project combines key methods from peatland-related disciplines in a unprecedented way: In subprojects we address i) palaeoecological reconstruction and reference conditions and indicators of degradation, ii) current hydrology, levels of biodiversity, and microbial communities, iii) greenhouse gas budgets of core sites based on chambers and eddy covariance techniques and building on available long-term data, iv) latest remote sensing monitoring approaches including upscaping from the plot to the landscape scale, supported by novel machine learning approaches, v) trade-offs in biodiversity, C-budgets, CO2 and CH4 exchange, and resilience thereof, if
targeted levels can only partly be met, and vi) outreach and knowledge transfer in by close collaboration with farmers, peat industry, nature conservationists, water managers, and administrative bodies.
The project examines and evaluates, for the first time, bog restoration pathways based on a state of the art evaluation of paleoecological and biogeochemical information from peat samples, putting this data into a landscape ecology context, and delivering powerful remote sensing tools for future assessment and monitoring of degraded and restored peat bogs. The clear focus, the tight coupling of work packages and the application of data commonly not considered in restoration ecology make the project very innovative and likely to yield results that can verify the applicability of bog restoration in a changing climate and hydrology.