Authored by: Dale H. Vitt , Paul Short

Encyclopedia of Natural Resources

Print publication date:  July  2014
Online publication date:  June  2014

Print ISBN: 9781439852583
eBook ISBN: 9781351043847
Adobe ISBN:


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Peatlands occupy only 3% of the global terrestrial surface, but hold 10% of the world’s drinking water, and contain stored in peat about one-third of the Earth’s soil carbon (about equal to the total CO2 in the atmosphere) and 9–16% of the world’s soil nitrogen. Peatlands act as watershed filters and serve as habitat for a number of unique suites of animal species. Fungi are common and abundant, and insects are diverse, but little studied. Plant diversity is low, but includes a number of rare and uncommon species. Peat has long been used as a soil amendment, and the harvesting of peatmoss is a small, but important industry where peatlands are abundant. The leading producer of commercial peat moss is Canada and the industry maintains a view of responsible environmental management that strives to restore peatlands to their before-harvest condition. Additionally, peatlands are managed for enhanced tree growth through drainage and fertilization in some countries and peat is harvested for electrical generation in a few northern countries. Peatlands contain a large, unstable stockpile of carbon that is sensitive to both climatic and anthropogenic disturbances. These disturbances have the potential to change the long-term peatland carbon sink into a source of carbon to the atmosphere, thus Wise Use, especially conservation, of our peatland resources should be a priority.

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