The impact of conifer plantation forestry on the ecology of peatland lakes

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Drinan, Thomas J.
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University College Cork
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Blanket bog lakes are a characteristic feature of blanket bog habitats and harbour many rare and threatened invertebrate species. Despite their potential conservation value, however, very little is known about their physico-chemical or biological characteristics in western Europe, and their reference conditions are still unknown in Ireland. Furthermore, they are under considerable threat in Ireland from a number of sources, particularly afforestation of their catchments by exotic conifers. Plantation forestry can potentially lead to the increased input of substances including hydrogen ions (H+), plants nutrients, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), heavy metals and sediment. The aims of this study were to investigate the effect of conifer plantation forestry on the hydrochemistry and ecology of blanket bog lakes in western Ireland. Lake hydrochemistry, littoral Chydoridae (Cladocera) and littoral macroinvertebrate communities were compared among replicate lakes selected from three distinct catchment land use categories: i) unplanted blanket bog only present in the catchment, ii) mature (closed-canopy) conifer plantation forests only present in the catchment and iii) catchments containing mature conifer plantation forests with recently clearfelled areas. All three catchment land uses were replicated across two geologies: sandstone and granite. Lakes with afforested catchments across both geologies had elevated concentrations of phosphorus (P), nitrogen (N), total dissolved organic carbon (TDOC), aluminium (Al) and iron (Fe), with the highest concentrations of each parameter recorded from lakes with catchment clearfelling. Dissolved oxygen concentrations were also significantly reduced in the afforested lakes, particularly the clearfell lakes. This change in lake hydrochemistry was associated with profound changes in lake invertebrate communities. Within the chydorid communities, the dominance of Alonopsis elongata in the unplanted blanket bog lakes shifted to dominance by the smaller bodied Chydorus sphaericus, along with Alonella nana, Alonella excisa and Alonella exigua, in the plantation forestry-affected lakes, consistent with a shift in lake trophy. Similarly, there was marked changes in the macroinvertebrate communities, especially for the Coleoptera and Heteroptera assemblages which revealed increased taxon richness and abundance in the nutrient-enriched lakes. In terms of conservation status, despite having the greatest species-quality scores (SQS) and species richness, three of the four International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red-listed species of Coleoptera and Odonata recorded during the study were absent from lakes subject to catchment clearfelling. The relative strengths of bottom-up (forestry-mediated nutrient enrichment) and top-down (fish) forces in structuring littoral macroinvertebrate communities was investigated in a separate study. Nutrient enrichment was shown to be the dominant force acting on communities, with fish having a lesser influence. These results confirmed that plantation forestry poses the single greatest threat to the conservation status of blanket bog lakes in western Ireland. The findings of this study have major implications for the management of afforested peatlands. Further research is required on blanket bog lakes to prevent any further plantation forestry-mediated habitat deterioration of this rare and protected habitat.
Peatland lakes , Conifer plantation forestry , Hydrochemistry , Littoral Chydoridae , Macroinvertebrate communities , Conservation status
Drinan, T. J. 2012. The impact of conifer plantation forestry on the ecology of peatland lakes. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.