Maintaining northern peatland ecosystems in a changing climate: effects of drainage and drain blocking on soil moisture and craneflies

Matthew J. Carroll, Peter Dennis, James W. Pearce-Higgins, Chris D. Thomas

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The capacity of peatlands in the northern hemisphere to provide carbon storage, maintain water quality and support northern biodiversity is threatened by a combination of climate change and inappropriate land management. Historical drainage and increasing temperatures threaten the maintenance of the high water tables required for effective peatland functioning, and there is an urgent need to develop appropriate adaptation strategies. Here we use a large-scale replicated experimental design to test the effects of artificial drainage and drain blocking upon soil moisture and cranefly (Diptera: Tipulidae) abundance. Craneflies constitute a key component of peatland biological communities; they are important herbivores and a major prey item for breeding birds. However, they are also susceptible to drought, so are at risk from future climate change. We found that cranefly abundance increased with soil moisture, in a wedge-shaped relationship; high soil moisture is a necessary condition for high cranefly abundance. Blocking drains increased both soil moisture (by 0.06 m3 m−3 in 2009 and 0.23 m3 m−3 in 2010) and cranefly abundance (1.3-fold in 2009, 4.5-fold in 2010), but the strength and significance of the effects varied between years. The benefits of restoring ecosystem moisture levels are likely to be greatest during dry years and at dry sites. This study provides some of the first evidence that adaptation management can potentially reduce some of the negative effects of climate change on vulnerable peatland systems. Management to maintain or increase soil moisture in peatlands can therefore be expected to increase populations of craneflies and their avian predators (which are of conservation and economic interest), but also increase the resilience of the ecosystem to future warming and increasingly frequent droughts, and improve carbon storage and water quality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2991-3001
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number9
Early online date21 Mar 2011
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2011


  • adaptation
  • blanket bog
  • breeding birds
  • gripping
  • leatherjackets
  • moorland
  • tipulid
  • uplands


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