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Decoding the secrets of carbon preservation in peatlands

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Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum Nano Centre

Room 0101

Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1

Canada

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As part of the Water Institute's WaterTalks lecture series, Curtis Richardson, professor of Resource Ecology and Director of the Duke University Wetland Center, presents, "Decoding the Secrets of Carbon Preservation in Peatlands along a Boreal to Tropical Gradient from Minnesota to Peru."

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Biogeochemical controls regulating carbon (C) storage and greenhouse gas (GHG) flux in peatlands are underestimated compared to hydrologic and anaerobic regulators. To examine the role of carbon quality in C accretion in northern compared to tropical peatlands we completed field and lab studies on bog peats collected in Minnesota, North Carolina, Florida and Peru to answer three fundamental questions;

  1. is tropical peat more recalcitrant than northern peat?
  2. Does the addition of protective aromatic and phenolic C compounds increase towards the tropics?
  3. Do differences in the chemical structure of organic matter explain variances in carbon storage and GHG flux in tropical versus northern peatlands?

Our main hypothesize is that high concentrations of phenolics and aromatic C compounds produced in shrub and tree plant communities in peatlands coupled with the fire production of biochar aromatics in peatlands may provide a dual biogeochemical latch mechanism controlling microbial decomposition of peat even under higher temperatures and seasonal drought. By comparing the peat bog soil cores collected from the MN peat bogs, NC Pocosins, FL Everglades and Peru palm swamps we find that the soils in the shrub-dominant Pocosin contain the highest phenolics, which microbial studies indicate have the strongest resistance to microbial decomposition and a distinctive dominant fungal community. A chemical comparison of plant-driven peat carbon quality along a north to south latitudinal gradient indicates that tropical bog peatlands often have higher aromatic compounds, and enhanced phenolics, especially after light fires, which enhances C storage and affect GHG flux.

Speaker Bio

Curtis J. Richardson is a professor of Resource Ecology and founding director of the Duke University Wetland Center in the Nicholas School of the Environment. Dr. Richardson earned his degrees from the State University of New York and the University of Tennessee.

His research interests in applied ecology focus on long-term ecosystem response to large-scale perturbations such as climate change, toxic materials, trace metals, flooding, or nutrient additions. He has specific interests in phosphorus nutrient dynamics in wetlands and the effects of environmental stress on plant communities and ecosystem functions and services. The objectives of his research are to utilize ecological principles to develop new approaches to environmental problem solving. The goal of his research is to provide predictive models and approaches to aid in the management of ecosystems.

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Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum Nano Centre

Room 0101

Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1

Canada

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