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Harvard Forest Data Archive


Development and Expansion of Peatlands in Central New England from 14000 BP to Present

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  • Lead: Rebecca Anderson, David Foster
  • Investigators:
  • Contact: Information Manager
  • Start date: -12000
  • End date: 2000
  • Status: complete
  • Location: Central New England
  • Latitude: +42.54 to +42.72 degrees
  • Longitude: -72.21 to -72.01 degrees
  • Elevation:
  • Datum: WGS84
  • Taxa:
  • Release date: 2023
  • Language: English
  • EML file: knb-lter-hfr.74.18
  • DOI: digital object identifier
  • EDI: data package
  • DataONE: data package
  • Related links:
  • Study type: paleological
  • Research topic: historical and retrospective studies; physiological ecology, population dynamics and species interactions; regional studies
  • LTER core area: disturbance patterns
  • Keywords: climate change, peatland, sediments
  • Abstract:

    As peatlands form they create a temporal archive of community development, allowing the reconstruction of vegetation dynamics through the analysis of sediments and the development of detailed chronologies of successional change. Peatland formation occurs through two mechanisms: (i) terrestrialization, when a water body fills with sediments and peat; and (ii) paludification, the conversion of dry land to peatland. In temperate regions, where high summer temperatures may limit peat accumulation, general models of peatland development suggest that allogenic factors such as climate change control peatland development and that terrestrialization is the primary mechanism of formation.

    This study evaluates this widely accepted model by comparing the developmental histories of three peatlands within the same climate region in New England in order to: (i) describe the development and timing of successional events among peatlands; (ii) document the roles of paludification and terrestrialization as developmental mechanisms; and (iii) evaluate the importance of climate change vs. autogenic factors in peatland development in this temperate region.

    Basin morphometry, sediment stratigraphies, and chronologies of community change determined through radiocarbon dating indicate that peatland development at each site involved terrestrialization followed by paludification, with no apparent influence of broad-scale climate change on the timing of these processes. Paludification was consistently initiated coincident with the consolidation of a shrub mat across each lake-basin, and was controlled in extent and rate by the topography of the adjoining uplands. The timing of stratigraphic changes varied among sites, suggesting that autogenic factors associated with the accumulation of peat rather than regional climate change controlled development. These results provide the foundation for a model of temperate peatland development driven by autogenic factors and caution against the use of temperate peatland development as a proxy for climatic reconstruction.

  • Methods:

    Sediment cores were taken in 25-m grid throughout 3 small (~ 10 ha) peatland basins in northern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. The stratigraphy of each core was described and radiocarbon dates were taken from cores on a transect across the basin.

  • Organization: Harvard Forest. 324 North Main Street, Petersham, MA 01366, USA. Phone (978) 724-3302. Fax (978) 724-3595.

  • Project: The Harvard Forest Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program examines ecological dynamics in the New England region resulting from natural disturbances, environmental change, and human impacts. (ROR).

  • Funding: National Science Foundation LTER grants: DEB-8811764, DEB-9411975, DEB-0080592, DEB-0620443, DEB-1237491, DEB-1832210.

  • Use: This dataset is released to the public under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (No Rights Reserved). Please keep the dataset creators informed of any plans to use the dataset. Consultation with the original investigators is strongly encouraged. Publications and data products that make use of the dataset should include proper acknowledgement.

  • License: Creative Commons Zero v1.0 Universal (CC0-1.0)

  • Citation: Anderson R, Foster D. 2023. Development and Expansion of Peatlands in Central New England from 14000 BP to Present. Harvard Forest Data Archive: HF074 (v.18). Environmental Data Initiative:

Detailed Metadata

hf074-01: peatlands data

  1. site: site name
  2. transect: which north/south grid point
  3. point: which east/west grid point
  4. dpf: for edge points, how far past the closest grid point (unit: meter / missing value: NA)
  5. depth.probe: depth as probed from peatland (unit: centimeter / missing value: NA)
  6. depth.clay: depth of cored sediments from surface to mineral (unit: centimeter / missing value: NA)
  7. woody.peat.1: depth (cm) of peat deposit - woody peat type 1
  8. woody.peat.2: depth (cm) of peat deposit - woody peat type 2
  9. shrub.peat: depth (cm) of peat deposit
  10. sedge.shrub.peat: depth (cm) of peat deposit
  11. gyttja.macrofossils: depth (cm) of aquatic sediments with macrofossils
  12. gyttja: depth (cm) of aquatic sediment
  13. clay: presence of clay sediment
    • y: yes
  14. grid.point: point on permanent grid for Prospect Hill, Harvard Forest