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Recovery of fen peatland microbiomes and predicted functional profiles after rewetting

Abstract

Many of the world’s peatlands have been affected by water table drawdown and subsequent loss of organic matter. Rewetting has been proposed as a measure to restore peatland functioning and to halt carbon loss, but its effectiveness is subject to debate. An important prerequisite for peatland recovery is a return of typical microbial communities, which drive key processes. To evaluate the effect of rewetting, we investigated 13 fen peatland areas across a wide (>1500 km) longitudinal gradient in Europe, in which we compared microbial communities between drained, undrained, and rewetted sites. There was a clear difference in microbial communities between drained and undrained fens, regardless of location. Community recovery upon rewetting was substantial in the majority of sites, and predictive functional profiling suggested a concomitant recovery of biogeochemical peatland functioning. However, communities in rewetted sites were only similar to those of undrained sites when soil organic matter quality (as expressed by cellulose fractions) and quantity were still sufficiently high. We estimate that a minimum organic matter content of ca. 70% is required to enable microbial recovery. We conclude that peatland recovery after rewetting is conditional on the level of drainage-induced degradation: severely altered physicochemical peat properties may preclude complete recovery for decades.

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Fig. 1: Geographical locations of the study sites.
Fig. 2: Nonmetric multidimensional scaling (NMDS, stress = 0.187) of prokaryote community composition at three depths and three drainage stages in 39 fen sites across Europe.
Fig. 3: Prokaryote diversity and biomass at three depths and three drainage stages in 39 fen sites across Europe.
Fig. 4: Relative abundances of a selection of predicted functional genes in the top peat layer (0–5 cm) of 39 fen sites that differ in drainage stage.
Fig. 5: Environmental variables in drained (dots) and rewetted (triangles) fens in relation to microbial community dissimilarity to undrained fens.

Data availability

Sequences are available  in NCBI SRA under project number PRJNA595701.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Johan de Gruyter for help with operating the sequencer, and we thank Tom van der Spiet, Rebecca White, and Adrita Ballal for their assistance in the lab. We thank Natuurpunt, Staatsbosbeheer, Natagora, Stiftung Naturschutz Schleswig-Holstein, and the districts of Vorpommern-Rügen and Vorpommern-Greifswald for sampling permits, and greatly thank Filip Meysman, Tim Urich, Richard Bardgett, and three anonymous reviewers for critical reading of and input on the manuscript. Finally our gratitude to all field helpers and all members of the REPEAT team. This research was financed by BiodivERsA/BELSPO (BR/175/A1), VBNE/OBN (OBN-2016-80-NZ), and FWO (1214520N).

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W-JE, EV, RvD, CJSA, AK, WK, LK, ES, HS, FT, and MW designed the research. RvD, CJSA, TC, JF, LK, YL, ES, FT, and JV collected the data. W-JE and EV statistically analyzed the data. W-JE led the writing of the manuscript and all authors contributed to drafts and gave approval for publication.

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Correspondence to Willem-Jan Emsens.

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Emsens, WJ., van Diggelen, R., Aggenbach, C.J.S. et al. Recovery of fen peatland microbiomes and predicted functional profiles after rewetting. ISME J 14, 1701–1712 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41396-020-0639-x

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