In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Peatlands

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Defining the Biome
  • Foundational Works and Classification
  • Hydrology
  • Gradients
  • Flora
  • Fauna
  • Development
  • Disturbances
  • Plant Communities
  • Population Interactions
  • Restoration
  • Climate Change and Modeling Peatland Response

Ecology Peatlands
Dale H. Vitt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 November 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0035


Peatland ecosystems are characterized by a substantial accumulation of organic matter in soil (peat), resulting from long-term excess of net primary production at the surface compared to decomposition throughout the peat column. Globally, peatlands cover 3–4 percent of the earth’s land surface, yet they store 25–30 percent of the world’s soil carbon (about 455 Pg of C) and 9–16 percent of the world’s soil nitrogen (8–15 Pg of N) in peat. These large stores of C and N are especially vulnerable to global climate change. Although peatlands occur from the tropics to the Arctic, it is in the boreal region where peatlands are most abundant. The presence of a well-developed ground layer of mosses along with either abundant shrubs or sedges makes the population and community ecology of these ecosystems interesting and challenging. The high water table, presence of anoxia, and isolation from all nutrient inputs—except the atmosphere in some peatlands (bogs)—present unique opportunities to study the hydrology and biogeochemistry.

General Overviews

The first modern foundational overview of peatlands was Gore 1983a and Gore 1983b, published as part of the Ecosystems of the World Series, a two-volume set that presents a series of detailed chapters on processes, communities, and organisms occurring in mires (peatlands), and a series of excellent regional studies. Three excellent regional overviews of peatlands followed soon after. Canada Committee on Ecological (Biophysical) Land Classification 1988 provides the first in-depth treatment of Canada’s wetlands (largely peatlands). It is here that the well-accepted “Canadian classification” of wetlands is outlined. Shortly afterward, Wright, et al. 1992 presents an edited series of chapters on the patterned peatlands of Minnesota, following largely on a decadal study of these peatlands that was done mostly at the University of Minnesota. Although regional in scope, these two books developed many of our modern concepts of hydrology, community patterns, and development of peatlands. Crum 1992 centers on the peatlands of the upper US Midwest. Unlike the Canadian and Minnesota books, which presented original data and new ideas, Crum’s book offers a lively written review of his ideas of peatland flora and processes. His emphasis on Sphagnum as an important floristic component made available a lifetime of information on this important group of plants. Dierssen and Dierssen 2001 provides the first modern review of the peatlands of central Europe. This book is filled with wonderful photos and detailed vegetation notes, and it is full of new and interesting details on European peatlands (written in German). Joosten and Clarke 2002 explores what we know from a conservation point of view, and Bauerochse and Hassmann 2003 is an edited series of chapters on peatlands as archaeological sites and archives of nature. More recently, two books have served to review our knowledge of peatlands. Rydin and Jeglum 2006 is the first textbook on peatlands. This excellent overview of the processes and communities of peatlands can readily be used in the advanced classroom. Wieder and Vitt 2006 is a series of chapters on boreal peatlands that reviews the state of our knowledge.

  • Bauerochse, Andrew, and Henning Hassmann, eds. 2003. Peatlands: Archaeological sites, archives of nature, nature conservation, wise use. Rahden, Germany: Verlag Marie Leidorf.

    A complete review of the archaeological finds from central and western Europe.

  • Canada Committee on Ecological (Biophysical) Land Classification, National Wetlands Working Group. 1988. Wetlands of Canada. Ecological Land Classification Series 24. Ottawa, ON: Sustainable Development Branch, Canadian Wildlife Service, Conservation and Protection, Environment Canada.

    A regionalized, detailed treatment of Canada’s wetlands. Original data are presented for the first time for many of Canada’s northern areas. The Canadian wetland classification is also presented in some detail.

  • Crum, Howard. 1992. A focus on peatlands and peat mosses. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

    DOI: 10.3998/mpub.7367

    Howard Crum writes about his fascination with peatlands, including wonderful literature quotes, and his views of peatland processes and plants.

  • Dierssen, Klaus, and Barbara Dierssen. 2001. Moore. Stuttgart: Ulmer.

    A beautifully illustrated book on the peatlands of central Europe (in German).

  • Gore, A. J. P., ed. 1983a. Mires: Swamp, bog, fen, and moor; General studies. Ecosystems of the World 4A. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

    Detailed treatise on the world’s peatlands, including general processes in the first of two volumes.

  • Gore, A. J. P., ed. 1983b. Mires: Swamp, bog, fen, and moor; Regional studies. Ecosystems of the World 4B. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

    The second volume of a two-volume detailed treatise on the world’s peatlands, including reviews of regional peatland diversity and development.

  • Joosten, H., and D. Clarke. 2002. Wise use of mires and peatlands. Helsinki: International Mire Conservation Group and International Peat Society.

    A review of the commercial use of peatlands, their preservation, and their restoration.

  • Rydin, Håkan, and John K. Jeglum. 2006. The biology of peatlands. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198528722.001.0001

    The first real textbook on peatlands.

  • Wieder, R. Kelman, and Dale H. Vitt, eds. 2006. Boreal peatland ecosystems. Berlin: Springer Verlag.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-540-31913-9

    A series of chapters devoted to our current understanding of boreal peatlands. This book contains comprehensive bibliographies of peatland-related scientific articles.

  • Wright, Herbert E., Jr., Barbara A. Coffin, and Norman E. Aaseng, eds. 1992. The patterned peatlands of Minnesota. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

    A thorough study of the peatlands of northern Minnesota, including the largest peatland complex in the lower forty-eight states (the Red Lake Peatland). Includes a comprehensive set of chapters on the hydrology and development of the Red Lake Peatland.

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