Why Boreal Forests & Peatlands may soon become Earth's remaining 'lungs'?

Why Boreal Forests & Peatlands may soon become Earth's remaining 'lungs'?

The Boreal Forest

The Boreal Forest / Snowforest / Northwoods / Taiga (Russian:тайга́) is a biome in the NorthHemisphere characterized by coniferous plants (pines, spruces and larches, Fig 1-2).

In Eurasia, it covers most of Sweden, Finland, much of Norway, northern Scotland, some lowland/coastal areas of Iceland, much of Russia including much of Siberia, and areas of northern Kazakhstan, northern Mongolia, and northern Japan (on the island of Hokkaido). In North America, it covers most of inland Canada and Alaska, as well as parts of the extreme northern continental United States (northern Minnesota through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Upstate New York and northern New England).Although the main tree species, the length of the growing season and summer temperatures vary, the taiga has a subarctic climate with a wide temperature range between seasons, and the long and cold winter is the dominant feature.

The taiga is the world's largest land biome, and makes up 29% of the world's forest cover. Canada's boreal forest comprises about one third of the circumpolar borealforest that rings the NorthHemisphere, and is mostly abovethe 50th parallel (Canadian Boreal Initiative 2005). Taiga soils tend to be young and poor in nutrients. It lacks the deep, organically enriched profile present in temperate deciduous forests. Since the soil is acidic due to the falling pine needles, the forest floor has only lichens and some mosses growing on it. In theforest clearings and in areas with more boreal deciduous trees, there are more herbs and berries growing. Diversity of soil organisms in the boreal forest is high, comparable to the tropical rainforest (Wu et al. 2011, Nielsen et al. 2011).

Fig.1. Boreal forest and peatland of northern Alberta, Canada. Photograph by Neil Osborne posted byhttp://www.neileverosborne.com/portfolios/pipeline.html

Fig.2. Boreal forest and peatland of northern Alberta, Canada. Photograph by Neil Osborne posted byhttp://www.neileverosborne.com/portfolios/pipeline.html

Boreal Peatlands

Peatland ecosystems are terrestrial environments where over the long term, on an areal basis, net primary production exceeds organic matter decomposition, leading to the substantial accumulation of a deposit rich in incompletely decomposed organic matter, or peat. Under this broad definition, peatland ecosystems can be found in arctic, boreal, temperate, andtropical climates, although 80% of the world peatlands are found in the boreal region (Joosten & Clark 2002, Wieder et al. 2006).

Peat-forming ecosystems play important roles in carbon sequestration, erosional control, and landscape filtration. Peatlands are uniquely unbalanced ecosystems that are sensitive to the influences of hydrology, climate, and surrounding substrate. Peat-forming wetlands form two functional levels of organization: fens and bogs. Both of these grades develop deep deposits of peat and stabilize the landscape for long periods of time. Both are characterized by well-developed catotelms and ground layers dominated by bryophytes (Vitt 2006).

In Ecology, the term peatland is a more universal term for any terrain dominated by peat to a depth of 30-40 cm (12-16 in), even if it has been completely drained -i.e., a peatland can be dry, but a mire by definition must be wet.There are two types of mire - fens and bogs. A bog is situated on a domed-shaped land form, is higher than the surrounding landscape, and obtains most of its water from rainfall; while a fen is located on a slope, flat, or depression and gets its water from both rainfall and surface water.

A mire is distinguished from a swamp by its lack of a forest canopy,though some bogs may support limited tree or bush growth, mires are dominated by grass and mosses.

A mire is distinguishedfrom a marsh by its water nutrients and distribution. Whilemarshes are characterized by nutrient-rich stagnant or slow-moving waters; mire waters are located mostly below the soil surface level,as well as its plant life -marsh plants are generally submerged or floating-leaved; those in a mire are not.

As other forests are persistently being wiped out from Earth without proper reforestation programmes, and no significant afforestation projects are replacing it elsewhere, the Boreal Forest and its Peatlands may soon become the only remaining significant Earth lungs. Therefore, we cannot afford failing to preserve and restore the boreal forest and its peatlands.

Read more on the Boreal Forest:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiga

Read more on the Canadian Boreal Forest:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boreal_forest_of_Canada#cite_note-2

Read more on Peatlands:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peatland


Canadian Boreal Initiative (2005) State of Canada's Forests. Online:http://www.borealcanada.ca/boreal-did-you-know-e.php

Joosten H, Clarke D (2002) Wise use of mires and peatlands: background and principles including a Framework for decision-making. Totnes, Devon. Online:http://www.gret-perg.ulaval.ca/fileadmin/fichiers/fichiersGRET/pdf/Doc_generale/WUMP_Wise_Use_of_Mires_and_Peatlands_book.pdf

Nielsen U, Ayres E, Wall D, Bardgett R (2011) Soil biodiversity and carbon cycling: a review and synthesis of studies examining diversity-function relationships. European Journal of Soil Science 62 (1): 105-116 Onlinehttp://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2389.2010.01314.x/abstract;jsessionid=2D1ABB1852ECED997E9C31FEE79EAC84.f03t04

Vitt DH (2006) Functional characteristics and indicators of boreal peatlands. Ecological Studies 188:9-24. Online:http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-540-31913-9_2

Wieder RK, Vitt DH, Benscoter BW (2006) Peatlands and the boreal forest. Ecological Studies 188:1-8. Online:http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-540-31913-9_1

Wu T, Ayres E, Bardgett R, Wall D, Garey J (2011) Molecular study of worldwide distribution and diversity of soil animals. Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences 108(43): 17720-17725 Onlinehttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3203765/?tool=pmcentrez&report=abstract


About Author: Vanda is an ecosystem scientist with 15 years of postdoctoral experience. She specialized in Modelling Ecological Processes in Water-Land Interfaces. Using the Ecosystem-based Approach (EbA), the results have provided further scientific basis for environmental policy advice in the areas of Integrated Landscape & Wildlife Management. See some of her other articles here