Rewetting does not return drained fen peatlands to their old selves


Peatlands have been drained for land use for a long time and on a large scale, turning them from carbon and nutrient sinks into respective sources, diminishing water regulation capacity, causing surface height loss and destroying biodiversity. Over the last decades, drained peatlands have been rewetted for biodiversity restoration and, as it strongly decreases greenhouse gas emissions, also for climate protection. We quantify restoration success by comparing 320 rewetted fen peatland sites to 243 near-natural peatland sites of similar origin across temperate Europe, all set into perspective by 10k additional European fen vegetation plots. Results imply that rewetting of drained fen peatlands induces the establishment of tall, graminoid wetland plants (helophytisation) and long-lasting differences to pre-drainage biodiversity (vegetation), ecosystem functioning (geochemistry, hydrology), and land cover characteristics (spectral temporal metrics). The Paris Agreement entails the rewetting of 500,000 km(2) of drained peatlands worldwide until 2050-2070. A better understanding of the resulting locally novel ecosystems is required to improve planning and implementation of peatland rewetting and subsequent management.

Nat Commun