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Keywords:

  • alkalinization;
  • buffer capacity;
  • desiccation;
  • Hamatocaulis vernicosus ;
  • inundation;
  • mesocosm;
  • phosphorus mobilization;
  • Scorpidium scorpioides ;
  • water management;
  • water-table fluctuation

Summary

  1.  Water levels in areas with intensive agriculture have often been strictly controlled for decades. Recently, more natural fluctuating water levels have been propagated to improve the ecological quality of wetlands in these areas. This study investigated the effects of water levels on protected base-rich mesotrophic fens during winter and summer.
  2.  We used a mesocosm approach to simulate water level fluctuations under winter and summer conditions (light and temperature) to test the effects of water level on the biogeochemistry and vegetation of two highly endangered fen types with the brownmosses Scorpidium scorpioides and Hamatocaulis vernicosus as dominant mosses.
  3.  Both species showed decreased photosynthetic capacity at lower water levels. These levels also resulted in decreased alkalinity due to oxidation processes in the moss layer. High water levels led to increased pH and alkalinity, due to reduction processes and infiltration of base-rich water.
  4.  For the P-limited S. scorpioides mesocosms, high water levels did not lead to P mobilization or to significant changes in biomass production, P uptake and N:P ratios. However, for the mesocosms with H. vernicosus, where P limitation was not obvious, high water levels did result in P mobilization and increased P availability due to iron reduction. The lower P mobilization for S. scorpioides appeared to be related to lower total soil P content and higher Fe:P and Ca:P ratios. Although high water levels resulted in the accumulation of ammonium under winter conditions, this did not happen under summer conditions, making ammonium toxicity unlikely.
  5.  Synthesis and applications. Our results suggest that low water levels could hamper protected brownmosses in rich fens, especially during the summer. In contrast, inundations may have a positive effect on rich fens by increasing the alkalinity. However, inundations may lead to eutrophication due to internal P mobilization in soils with a high total P content and low Fe:P ratio. Therefore, we recommend that soils with high total P content and low Fe:P ratios should not be flooded.