Question: Which environmental variables affect the floristic composition of south Patagonian bog vegetation along a gradient of climate and biogeochemical changes with increasing distance from the Pacific ocean?
Location: Trans-Andean transect (53° S), southern Patagonia
Material and Methods: Floristic composition, peat characteristics (water level, decomposition, pH, total nitrogen, total carbon, ash content and plant available P, K, Na, Ca, Mg, Fe, Mn, Zn, and Al) and climatic constraints of ombrotrophic peatlands were measured at 82 plots along a gradient of increasing distance from the Pacific Ocean.
Results: Climatic constraints and biogeochemical peat characteristics significantly change with increasing distance from the Pacific. Peatland vegetation shifted from hyperoceanic blanket bogs dominated by cushion forming vascular plants to the west to Sphagnum bogs to the east. Climatic and biogeochemical variables explained a large proportion of the floristic variation along the first DCA axis. The second axis represented a water level gradient. When ‘distance to the Pacific’ was defined as a covariable in partial CCA, the proportion of variance explained declined for most other variables, especially in the case of annual precipitation and exchangeable base cations and related traits. The differences in biogeochemical characteristics related to peat were mainly attributed to the input of sea-borne cations.
Conclusions: While variation in vegetation composition along a longitudinal gradient crossing the southern Andes was attributed to climatic constraints as expected, vegetation composition was also strongly affected by the biogeochemical characteristics of peat. Sea spray was of high ecological importance to peat chemistry and, consequently, to floristic composition. Presumably, south Patagonian peat bogs represent a glimpse of pre-industrial environments, so that these peat bogs may act as reference systems with respect to atmospheric inputs in mire ecology research.