Restoration of Sphagnum and restiad peatlands in Australia and New Zealand reveals similar approaches
Clarkson, B and Whinam, J and Good, R and Watts, C, Restoration of Sphagnum and restiad peatlands in Australia and New Zealand reveals similar approaches, Restoration Ecology, 25, (2) pp. 301-311. ISSN 1061-2971 (2017) [Refereed Article]
Peatlands in Australia and New Zealand are composed mainly of Restionaceous and Cyperaceous peats, although Sphagnum peat is common in wetter climates (Mean Annual Precipitation > 1,000 mm) and at higher altitudes (>1,000 m). Experimental trials in two contrasting peatland types—fire-damaged Sphagnum peatlands in the Australian Alps and cutover restiad bogs in lowland New Zealand—revealed similar approaches to peatland restoration. Hydrological restoration and rehydration of drying peats involved blocking drainage ditches to raise water tables or, additionally in burnt Sphagnum peatlands, peat-trenching, and the use of sterilized straw bales to form semipermanent "dam walls" and barriers to spread and slow surface water movement. Recovery to the predisturbance vegetation community was most successful once protective microclimates had been established, either artificially or naturally. Specifically, horizontally laid shadecloth resulted in Sphagnum cristatum regeneration rates and biomass production 3–4 times that of unshaded vegetation (Australia), and early successional nurse shrubs facilitated establishment of Sporadanthus ferrugineus (New Zealand) within 2–3 years. On severely burnt or cutover sites, a patch dynamic approach using transplants of Sphagnum or creation of restiad peat "islands" markedly improved vegetation recovery. In New Zealand, this approach has been scaled up to whole mine-site restoration, in which the newly vegetated islands provide habitat and seed sources for plants and invertebrates to spread onto surrounding areas. Although a vegetation cover can be established relatively rapidly in both peatland types, restoration of invertebrate communities, ecosystem processes, and peat hydrological function and accumulation may take many decades.