Peat deposits store more carbon than trees in forested peatlands of the boreal biome

Sci Rep. 2021 Jan 29;11(1):2657. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-82004-x.


Peatlands are significant carbon (C) stores, playing a key role in nature-based climate change mitigation. While the effectiveness of non-forested peatlands as C reservoirs is increasingly recognized, the C sequestration function of forested peatlands remains poorly documented, despite their widespread distribution. Here, we evaluate the C sequestration potential of pristine boreal forested peatlands over both recent and millennial timescales. C stock estimates reveal that most of the carbon stored in these ecosystems is found in organic horizons (22.6-66.0 kg m-2), whereas tree C mass (2.8-5.7 kg m-2) decreases with thickening peat. For the first time, we compare the boreal C storage capacities of peat layers and tree biomass on the same timescale, showing that organic horizons (11.0-12.6 kg m-2) can store more carbon than tree aboveground and belowground biomass (2.8-5.7 kg m-2) even over a short time period (last 200 years). We also show that forested peatlands have similar recent rates of C accumulation to boreal non-forested peatlands but lower long-term rates, suggesting higher decay and more important peat layer combustion during fire events. Our findings highlight the significance of forested peatlands for C sequestration and suggest that greater consideration should be given to peat C stores in national greenhouse gas inventories and conservation policies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't