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Widespread drying of European peatlands in recent centuries

Swindles, Graeme and Morris, Paul and Mullan, Donal and Payne, Richard and Roland, Thomas and Amesbury, Matthew and Lamentowicz, Mariusz and Turner, Edward and Gallego-Sala, Angelo and Sim, Thomas and Barr, Iestyn and Blaauw, Maarten and Blundell, Antony and Chambers, Frank and Charman, Dan and Feurdean, Angelica and Galloway, Jennifer and Galka, Mariusz and Green, Sophie and Kajukalo, Katarzyna and Karofeld, Edgar and Korhola, Atte and Lamentowicz, Lukasz and Langdon, Peter and Marcisz, Katarzyna and Mauquoy, Dmitri and Mazei, Yuri and McKeown, Michelle and Mitchell, Edward and Novenko, Novenko and Plunkett, Gill and Roe, Helen and Schoning, Kristian and Sillasoo, Ülle and Tsyganov, Andrey and van der Linden, Marjolein and Vallranta, Minna and Warner, Barry (2019) Widespread drying of European peatlands in recent centuries. Nature Geoscience. ISSN 1752-0894


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Climate warming and human impacts are thought to be causing peatlands to dry, potentially converting them from sinks to sources of carbon. However, it is unclear whether the hydrological status of peatlands has moved beyond their natural envelope. Here we show that European peatlands have undergone substantial, widespread drying during the last ~300 years. We analyse testate amoeba-derived hydrological reconstructions from 31 peatlands across Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and Continental Europe to examine changes in peatland surface wetness during the last 2,000 years. We find that 60% of our study sites were drier during the period 1800–2000 CE than they have been for the last 600 years, 40% of sites were drier than they have been for 1,000 years and 24% of sites were drier than they have been for 2,000 years. This marked recent transition in the hydrology of European peatlands is concurrent with compound pressures including climatic drying, warming and direct human impacts on peatlands, although these factors vary among regions and individual sites. Our results suggest that the wetness of many European peatlands may now be moving away from natural baselines. Our findings highlight the need for effective management and restoration of European peatlands.

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