Peatlands cover about 30% of northeastern Alberta and are ecosystems that are sensitive to nitrogen deposition. In polluted areas of the UK, high atmospheric N deposition (as a component of acid deposition) has been considered among the causes of Sphagnum decline in bogs (ombrogenous peatlands). In relatively unpolluted areas of western Canada and northern Sweden, short-term experimental studies have shown that Sphagnum responds quickly to nutrient loading, with uptake and retention of nitrogen and increased production. Here we examine the response of Sphagnum fuscum to enhanced nitrogen deposition generated during 34 years of oil sands mining through the determination of net primary production (NPP) and nitrogen concentrations in the upper peat column. We chose six continental bogs receiving differing atmospheric nitrogen loads (modeled using a CALPUFF 2D dispersion model). Sphagnum fuscum net primary production (NPP) at the high deposition site (Steepbank—mean of 600 g/m2; median of 486 g/m2) was over three times as high than at five other sites with lower N deposition. Additionally, production of S. fuscum may be influenced to some extent by distance of the moss surface from the water table. Across all sites, peat nitrogen concentrations are highest at the surface, decreasing in the top 3 cm with no significant change with increasing depth. We conclude that elevated N deposition at the Steepbank site has enhanced Sphagnum production. Increased N concentrations are evident only in the top 1-cm of the peat profile. Thus, 34 years after mine startup, increased N-deposition has increased net primary production of Sphagnum fuscum without causing elevated levels of nitrogen in the organic matter profile. A response to N-stress for Sphagnum fuscum is proposed at 14–34 kg ha−1 yr−1. A review of N-deposition values reveals a critical N-deposition value of between 14.8 and 15.7 kg ha−1 yr−1 for NPP of Sphagnum species.
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