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Blanket peat biome endangered by climate change

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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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Figure 1: The global potential area of blanket bog, predicted from climate data using the PeatStash model.
Figure 2: Effect of each climatic variable on the potential area of blanket bog.
Figure 3: Projected changes to blanket bog potential area for seven climate change scenarios compared with the standard period.
Figure 4: Projected changes in blanket bog area by region and by climatic variable.

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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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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.

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Correspondence to Angela V. Gallego-Sala.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Gallego-Sala, A., Colin Prentice, I. Blanket peat biome endangered by climate change. Nature Clim Change 3, 152–155 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1672

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