Functional Traits in Sphagnum
Abstract: Peat mosses (Sphagnum) are ecosystem engineers that largely govern carbon sequestration in northern hemisphere peatlands. I investigated functional traits in Sphagnum species and addressed the questions: (I) Are growth, photosynthesis and decomposition and the trade-offs between these traits related to habitat or phylogeny?, (II) Which are the determinants of decomposition and are there trade-offs between metabolites that affect decomposition?, (III) How do macro-climate and local environment determine growth in Sphagnum across the Holarctic?, (IV) How does N2 fixation vary among different species and habitats?, (V) How do species from different microtopographic niches avoid or tolerate desiccation, and are leaf and structural traits adaptations to growth high above the water table?Photosynthetic rate and decomposition in laboratory conditions (innate growth and decay resistance) were related to growth and decomposition in their natural habitats. We found support for a trade-off between growth and decay resistance, but innate qualities translated differently to field responses in different species. There were no trade-offs between production of different decay-affecting metabolites. Their production is phylogenetically controlled, but their effects on decay are modified by nutrient availability in the habitat. Modelling growth of two species across the Holarctic realm showed that precipitation, temperature and vascular plant cover are the best predictors of performance, but responses were stronger for the wetter growing species. N2 fixation rates were positively related to moss decomposability, field decomposition and tissue phosphorus concentration. Hence, higher decomposition can lead to more nutrients available to N2-fixing microorganisms, while higher concentrations of decomposition-hampering metabolites may impede N2 fixation. A mesocosm experiment, testing effects of water level drawdown on water content and chlorophyll fluorescence, showed that either slow water loss or high maximum water holding capacity can lead to desiccation avoidance. Furthermore, leaf anatomical traits rather than structural traits affected the water economy.This thesis has advanced the emerging field of trait ecology in Sphagnum by comparing many species and revealing novel mechanisms and an ever more complex picture of Sphagnum ecology. In addition, the species-specific trait measurements of this work offers opportunities for improvements of peatland ecosystem models.
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