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Patterns and gradients of diversity in South Patagonian ombrotrophic peat bogs



Many north-hemispherical mires seemingly untouched by drainage and cultivation are influenced by a diffuse sum of man-made environmental changes, such as atmospherical nitrogen deposition that mask general patterns in species richness and functional group responses along resource gradients. To obtain insights into natural diversity-environment relationships, we studied the vegetation and the peat chemistry of pristine bog ecosystems in southern Patagonia along a west–east transect across the Andes. The studied bog ecosystems covered a floristic gradient from hyperoceanic blanket bogs dominated by cushion building vascular plants via a transitional mixed type to Sphagnum-dominated raised bogs east of the mountain range. To test the influence of resource availability on diversity patterns, species richness and functional groups were related to environmental variables by calculating general regression models and generalized additive models. Species richness showed strong linear correlations to peat chemical features and the general regression model resulted in three major environmental variables (water level, total nitrogen, NH4Cl soluble calcium), altogether explaining 76% of variance. Functional group response illustrated a clear separation along environmental gradients. Mosses dominated at the low end of a nitrogen gradient, whereas cushion plants had their optimum at intermediate levels, and graminoids dominated at high nitrogen contents. Further shifts were related to NH4Cl soluble calcium and water level. The models documented partly non-linear relationships between functional group response and trophical peat properties. Within the three bog types, the calculated models differed remarkably illustrating the scale-dependency of the explanatory factors. Our findings confirmed several general patterns of species richness and functional shifts along resource gradients in a surprisingly clear way and underpin the significance of undisturbed peatlands as reference systems for testing of ecological theory and for conservation and ecological restoration in landscapes with strong human impact.