Letter | Published:

Blanket peat biome endangered by climate change

Nature Climate Change volume 3, pages 152155 (2013) | Download Citation

Abstract

Blanket bog is a highly distinctive biome restricted to disjunct hyperoceanic regions. It is characterized by a landscape covering of peat broken only by the steepest slopes1. Plant and microbial life are adapted to anoxia, low pH and low nutrient availability. Plant productivity exceeds soil organic matter decomposition, so carbon is sequestered over time. Unique climatic requirements, including high year-round rainfall and low summer temperatures2, make this biome amenable to bioclimatic modelling. However, projections of the fate of peatlands in general, and blanket bogs in particular, under climate change have been contradictory3,4,5,6,7. Here we use a simple, well-founded global bioclimatic model8, with climate-change projections from seven climate models, to indicate this biome’s fate. We show marked shrinkage of its present bioclimatic space with only a few, restricted areas of persistence. Many blanket bog regions are thus at risk of progressive peat erosion and vegetation changes as a direct consequence of climate change. New areas suitable for blanket bog are also projected, but these are often disjunct from present areas and their location is inconsistently predicted by different climate models.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the Environment Agency (Science project sc070036) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), through the Quantifying and Understanding the Earth System (QUEST) programme, for funding the development of PeatStash. M. Sykes at Lund University provided the STASH code, and F. Bragg at Bristol helped with the climate-change scenarios. Climate-change scenarios were provided by the QUEST GSI project, funded by NERC. We are indebted to J. Hecht, B. Ridge, S. Velásquez-Franco, R. Limeres and M. Rimmer for providing pictures of blanket bogs.

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Affiliations

  1. QUEST, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Queens Road, Bristol BS8 1RJ, UK

    • Angela V. Gallego-Sala
    •  & I. Colin Prentice
  2. Department of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, Division of Physical Geography and Ecosystems Analysis, Lunds Universitet, Sölvegatan 12, 223 62 Lund, Sweden

    • Angela V. Gallego-Sala
  3. Department of Geography, University of Exeter, Amory Building, Rennes Drive, Exeter EX4 4RJ, UK

    • Angela V. Gallego-Sala
  4. Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, North Ryde, New South Wales 2109, Australia

    • I. Colin Prentice
  5. Grantham Institute for Climate Change and Division of Ecology and Evolution, Imperial College, Silwood Park, Ascot SL5 7PY, UK

    • I. Colin Prentice

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Contributions

A.V.G.S. carried out model runs and analysis and wrote the first draft. I.C.P. supervised the project and contributed to experimental design, interpretation of results, and the final draft.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Angela V. Gallego-Sala.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1672

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