Vegetation of Sphagnum bogs in highly disturbed landscapes: relative influence of abiotic and anthropogenic factors

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Abstract

Question: Has the vegetation of Sphagnum bogs been affected by more than 200 years of human activities?

Location: Bas-Saint-Laurent region, southeastern Québec, Canada.

Methods: Data (species assemblages, abiotic and spatio-historical variables) were collected in 16 bogs ranging from 2 to 189 ha, and incorporated in a geographical information system. Major gradients in vegetation composition were identified using DCA. CCA was used to relate vegetation gradients to abiotic and spatio-historical variables.

Results: A clear segregation of species assemblages was observed, from open and undisturbed bogs to forested and highly disturbed sites. Among abiotic factors, tree basal area, water table level and peat thickness had a significant influence on plant species composition. Among spatio-historical factors, disturbance level, area loss and fire were the most influential factors. Variance partitioning between these groups of factors suggests that spatio-historical factors had a major influence on peatlands, representing 22% of the variation observed in the plant species assemblages while abiotic factors represent only 17% of the variation.

Conclusions: The results highlight the influence of agricultural and other anthropogenic activities on plant assemblages and suggest that even wetlands apparently resistant to disturbances, such as peatlands, can be severely affected by anthropogenic factors. Plant species assemblages of ombrotrophic peatlands of the Bas-Saint-Laurent region were, and still are, largely influenced by human activities.

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