The role of the river in the functioning of marginal fen: a case study from the Biebrza Wetlands

PeerJ. 2022 Jun 22:10:e13418. doi: 10.7717/peerj.13418. eCollection 2022.


Study region: The area of interest is the Upper Biebrza Valley, located in NE Poland.

Study focus: We examined water exchange at the river-fen interface in a near-natural wetland system using the combined field research-modeling approach. The authors chose the Biebrza River as the research object: it is a specific case of fen marginal valley rivers, and it flows in the peat layer without direct connection to the mineral soil layer. Our case study introduces two new aspects not yet considered in the scientific literature: (1) the riparian aquifer is fen and (2) the river has no direct contact with the mineral layer. The following research questions were investigated: What is the role of the river in feeding and draining a fen? Which drainage paths are important for water exchange in a near-natural river-fen system? How important are the morphological settings for the river-fen relations? We applied a systematic hydrological research approach based on field measurements and observations of the river and surrounding fen hydrological characteristics, as well as on the modelling results.

New hydrological insights for the region: We demonstrated that morphological settings have a significant influence on river-fen relations. We also demonstrated that due to the undeniable need to introduce increased protection and restoration of marginal fens, we may focus on river status in narrow valleys; however, in the wide valleys, the limitation of the drainage layer by decreasing the intensity of evapotranspiration is more promising. We propose to distinguish zones in the fen river valley to include them when proposing protection or conservation plans.

Keywords: Fen functioning; Fen protection; Marginal fens; River-fen model; River-fen relations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Groundwater*
  • Rivers
  • Soil
  • Water
  • Wetlands*


  • Soil
  • Water

Grants and funding

This research was funded by the Narodowe Centrum Nauki (The National Science Center, Poland), grant number OPUS 2016/21/B/ST10/03042. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.