Water Table Fluctuation in Peatlands Facilitates Fungal Proliferation, Impedes Sphagnum Growth and Accelerates Decomposition

Jinhyun Kim, Line Rochefort, Sandrine Hogue-Hugron, Zuhair Alqulaiti, Christian Dunn, Remy Pouliot, Timothy G. Jones, Chris Freeman, Hojeong Kang

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6 Citations (Scopus)


Northern peatlands are substantial carbon sinks because organic matter in peat is highly stable due to the low rate of decomposition. Waterlogged anaerobic conditions induce accumulation of Sphagnum-derived phenolic compounds that inhibit peat organic matter decomposition, a mechanism referred to as the “enzymic latch”. Recent studies have predicted that the water table in northern peatlands may become unstable. We observed that such unstable water table levels can impede the development of Sphagnum mosses. In this study, we determined the effects of low and high frequency water table fluctuation regimes on Sphagnum growth and peat organic matter decomposition, by conducting a year-long mesocosm experiment. In addition, we conducted a molecular analysis to examine changes in abundance of fungal community which may play a key role in the decomposition of organic matter in peatlands. We found that rapid water table fluctuation inhibited the growth of Sphagnum due to fungal infection but stimulated decomposition of organic matter that may dramatically destabilize peatland carbon storage. Increased pH, induced by the fluctuation, may contribute to the enhanced activity of hydrolases in peat. We demonstrated that the water table fluctuation in peatlands impeded Sphagnum growth and accelerates decomposition due to fungal proliferation. Thus, we suggested that understanding the microbial community in the northern peatlands is essential for elucidating the possible changes in carbon cycle of peatland under the changing world.

Original languageEnglish
Article number579329
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Apr 22

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
JK thanks to the ‘2019 International Joint Research Grant’ funded by Graduate School of Yonsei University. We thank Richard Belanger for providing lab space and resources for microbial analysis, Talal Asif for photos and comments on the final draft, and Jeongeun Yun for the helps in statistical analysis and revision of the manuscript.

Funding Information:
The running of this experiment at the Université Laval greenhouse was supported by a NSERC Discovery grant to Line Rochefort (No. 138097-2012) and a Canadian Foundation for Innovation grant. The analyses of samples were supported by funds from the Ministry of Education of Korea (2020R1I1A2072824) and the Ministry of Science and ICT of Korea (2018K2A9A1A01090455, 2019K1A3A1A74107424, 2019K1A3A1A80113041). JK is supported by the funds from the Ministry of Education of Korea (2019R1A6A3A01091184).

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2021 Kim, Rochefort, Hogue-Hugron, Alqulaiti, Dunn, Pouliot, Jones, Freeman and Kang.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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