J. M. Waddington


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iWetland: A Community Science Platform for Monitoring Wetland Water Levels
Taylor D. North, Paul A. Moore, Waverley Birch, Chantel E. Markle, Hope C. A. Freeman, Alex Furukawa, Danielle T. Hudson, Sophie Wilkinson, J. M. Waddington
Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, Volume 8, Issue 1

iWetland is a community science wetland water level monitoring platform developed by the McMaster Ecohydrology Lab and tested from 2016 to 2019 in wetlands located east of Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada. The goal of iWetland is to engage community members in wetland science while collecting data to better understand the spatiotemporal variability in water level patterns of wetlands. We installed 24 iWetland water level monitoring stations in popular hiking and camping areas where visitors can text the water level of the wetland to an online database that automatically collates the data. Here, we share our approach for developing the iWetland community science platform and its importance for monitoring all types of wetland ecosystems. From 2016 through 2019, almost 2,000 individuals recorded more than 2,600 water table measurements. The iWetland platform successfully collected accurate water table data for 24 wetlands. We discuss the successes and shortcomings of the community science platform with respect to data collection, community engagement, and participation. We found that forming mutually beneficial partnerships with community groups paired with strong outreach presence were key to the success of this community science platform. Finally, we recommend that those interested in adopting the iWetland platform in their community partner with community groups, recognize participant contributions, identify accessible sites, and host outreach activities.

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Wildfire and degradation accelerate northern peatland carbon release
Sophie Wilkinson, Roxane Andersen, Paul A. Moore, Scott J. Davidson, Gustaf Granath, J. M. Waddington
Nature Climate Change, Volume 13, Issue 5

The northern peatland carbon sink plays a vital role in climate regulation; however, the future of the carbon sink is uncertain, in part, due to the changing interactions of peatlands and wildfire. Here, we use empirical datasets from natural, degraded and restored peatlands in non-permafrost boreal and temperate regions to model net ecosystem exchange and methane fluxes, integrating peatland degradation status, wildfire combustion and post-fire dynamics. We find that wildfire processes reduced carbon uptake in pristine peatlands by 35% and further enhanced emissions from degraded peatlands by 10%. The current small net sink is vulnerable to the interactions of peatland degraded area, burn rate and peat burn severity. Climate change impacts accelerated carbon losses, where increased burn severity and burn rate reduced the carbon sink by 38% and 65%, respectively, by 2100. However, our study demonstrates the potential for active peatland restoration to buffer these impacts. Northern peatland carbon sink plays a vital role in climate regulation. Here, the authors show that wildfire reduced peatland carbon uptake and enhanced emissions from degraded peatlands; climate change impacts accelerated carbon losses where increased burn rate and severity reduced carbon sink.

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Reduced Net CO<sub>2</sub> Uptake During Dry Summers in a Boreal Shield Peatland
R.M. McDonald, Paul A. Moore, Manuel Helbig, J. M. Waddington
Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, Volume 128, Issue 2

Abstract Peatlands are globally important long‐term sinks of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO 2 ). However, there is concern that climate change‐mediated drying will reduce gross primary productivity (GPP) and increase ecosystem respiration (ER) making peatlands vulnerable to a weaker carbon sink function and potential net carbon loss. While large and deep peatlands are usually resilient to moderate summer drying, CO 2 exchange in shallow Boreal Shield peatlands is likely more sensitive to drying given the reduced groundwater connectivity and water storage potential. To better understand the carbon cycling responses of Boreal Shield peatlands to meteorological conditions, we examined ecohydrological controls on CO 2 fluxes using the eddy covariance technique at a shallow peatland during the summer season for 5 years, from 2016–2020. We found lower GPP in dry summer years. Mean summer water table depth (WTD) was found to be significantly correlated with summer total net ecosystem CO 2 exchange ( R 2 = 0.78; p value = 0.046) and GPP ( R 2 = 0.83; p value = 0.03), where wet summers with a WT close to the peat surface sequestered more than twice the amount of CO 2 than dry summers. Our findings suggest that shallow Boreal Shield peatland GPP may be sensitive to climate‐mediated drying as they may switch to a net CO 2 source in the summer season when WTDs exceed a critical ecohydrological threshold for a prolonged period of time.


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Peat surface compression reduces smouldering fire potential as a novel fuel treatment for boreal peatlands
Patrick Jeffrey Deane, Sophie Wilkinson, Gregory J. Verkaik, Paul A. Moore, Dave Schroeder, J. M. Waddington
Canadian Journal of Forest Research, Volume 52, Issue 3

The wildfire regime in Canada’s boreal region is changing; extended fire seasons are characterized by more frequent large fires (≥200 ha) burning greater areas of land, whilst climate-mediated drying is increasing the vulnerability of peatlands to deep burning. Proactive management strategies, such as fuel modification treatments, are necessary to reduce fire danger at the wildland-human interface (WHI). Novel approaches to fuel management are especially needed in peatlands where deep smouldering combustion is a challenge to suppression efforts and releases harmful emissions. Here, we integrate surface compression within conventional stand treatments to examine the potential for reducing smouldering of near-surface moss and peat. A linear model (adj. R2=0.62, p=2.2e-16) revealed that ground cover (F(2,101)=60.97, p<0.001) and compression (F(1,101)=56.46, p<0.001) had the greatest effects on smouldering potential, while stand treatment did not have a significant effect (F(3,101)=0.44, p=0.727). On average, compressed Sphagnum and feather moss plots showed 57.1% and 58.7% lower smouldering potential, respectively, when compared to uncompressed analogs. While practical evaluation is warranted to better understand the evolving effectiveness of this strategy, these findings demonstrate that a compression treatment can be successfully incorporated within both managed and unmanaged peatlands to reduce fire danger at the WHI.

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Wetland Successional State Affects Fire Severity in a Boreal Shield Landscape
Chantel E. Markle, Henry J. M. Gage, Alex M. Tekatch, Sophie Wilkinson, J. M. Waddington
Wetlands, Volume 42, Issue 7


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Ecohydrological trade-offs from multiple peatland disturbances: The interactive effects of drainage, harvesting, restoration and wildfire in a southern Ontario bog
Colin P.R. McCarter, Sophie Wilkinson, Paul A. Moore, J. M. Waddington
Journal of Hydrology, Volume 601

• Greater restored moss cover decreased peat burn severity. • Deep vs shallow harvesting depth drove divergent post-fire soil water conditions. • Shallow harvest increased suitable conditions for Sphagnum establishment. • Deep harvest lowers the risk of subsequent peat ignition. • Deep harvest likely to promote longer-term carbon sequestration due to fewer fires. Peatland disturbances can disrupt the ecohydrological functions that sustain net carbon sequestration in peatlands. Anthropogenic disturbances, such as peatland drainage and harvesting, are often followed by peatland restoration that aims to return the carbon sink function. This is typically achieved by raising the water table and re-establishing keystone Sphagnum moss species. However, with an increasingly uncertain climate and intensifying land-use changes, the potential for multiple disturbances (such as co-occurring wildfires, drainage, and harvesting) to disrupt the ecohydrological feedbacks that support peatland function is increasing. Yet, few studies investigate the ecohydrological trade-offs induced by multiple disturbances in peatlands. To elucidate the complexities of multiple disturbances and restoration on Sphagnum re-establishment and wildfire potential, we studied a Deep and Shallow harvested area in a drained and restored peatland in southern Ontario, Canada that experienced a wildfire in 2012. Harvesting depth did not significantly increase the bulk density of the upper 32 cm of exposed peat, but the shallower harvest depth did significantly increase the depth of burn (DOB) due to the more varied remnant topography. The difference in topography of the shallower harvested area increased peat carbon losses (16.5 kg C m −2 ) from the wildfire relative to the deeper harvest area (15.1 kg C m −2 ). The difference in post-fire peat hydrophysical properties of the Deep and Shallow harvest area drove divergent soil water conditions. In the post-burn peat, the establishment of suitable conditions for the regeneration of Sphagnum mosses was more prevalent at the Shallow harvest areas but the higher soil water retention capabilities of the Deep harvest peat lowered the risk of subsequent peat ignition. This study highlights the complex interactions multiple disturbances have on peatland ecohydrology and that we urgently need to understand these interactions to better manage our shared peatland resources in an increasingly uncertain future.

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Scientists' warning on extreme wildfire risks to water supply
François Robinne, Dennis W. Hallema, Kevin D. Bladon, Mike Flannigan, Gabrielle Boisramé, Christian Bréthaut, Stefan H. Doerr, Giuliano Di Baldassarre, Louise Gallagher, Amanda K. Hohner, Stuart J. Khan, A. M. Kinoshita, Rua S. Mordecai, João Pedro Nunes, Petter Nyman, Cristina Santín, Gary Sheridan, Cathelijne R. Stoof, Matthew P. Thompson, J. M. Waddington, Yu Wei
Hydrological Processes, Volume 35, Issue 5

2020 is the year of wildfire records. California experienced its three largest fires early in its fire season. The Pantanal, the largest wetland on the planet, burned over 20% of its surface. More than 18 million hectares of forest and bushland burned during the 2019–2020 fire season in Australia, killing 33 people, destroying nearly 2500 homes, and endangering many endemic species. The direct cost of damages is being counted in dozens of billion dollars, but the indirect costs on water-related ecosystem services and benefits could be equally expensive, with impacts lasting for decades. In Australia, the extreme precipitation (“200 mm day −1 in several location”) that interrupted the catastrophic wildfire season triggered a series of watershed effects from headwaters to areas downstream. The increased runoff and erosion from burned areas disrupted water supplies in several locations. These post-fire watershed hazards via source water contamination, flash floods, and mudslides can represent substantial, systemic long-term risks to drinking water production, aquatic life, and socio-economic activity. Scenarios similar to the recent event in Australia are now predicted to unfold in the Western USA. This is a new reality that societies will have to live with as uncharted fire activity, water crises, and widespread human footprint collide all-around of the world. Therefore, we advocate for a more proactive approach to wildfire-watershed risk governance in an effort to advance and protect water security. We also argue that there is no easy solution to reducing this risk and that investments in both green (i.e., natural) and grey (i.e., built) infrastructure will be necessary. Further, we propose strategies to combine modern data analytics with existing tools for use by water and land managers worldwide to leverage several decades worth of data and knowledge on post-fire hydrology.

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Mapping smouldering fire potential in boreal peatlands and assessing interactions with the wildland–human interface in Alberta, Canada
Sophie Wilkinson, Alexander K. Furukawa, B. M. Wotton, J. M. Waddington
International Journal of Wildland Fire, Volume 30, Issue 7

Treed peatlands exhibit both crown and smouldering fire potential; however, neither are included in Canadian wildfire management models and, as such, they are not formally represented in management decision-making. The lack of smouldering fire risk assessment is a critical research gap as these fires can represent heavy resource draws and are predominant sources of smoke, air pollutants and atmospheric carbon. Here, for the first time, we combine existing knowledge of the controls on smouldering peat fire with expert opinion-based weightings through a multi-criteria decision analysis, to map the smouldering fire potential (i.e. hazard) of treed peatlands in the Boreal Plains, Alberta, Canada. We find that smouldering potential varies considerably between treed peatlands and that areas of sparser peatland coverage may contain high smouldering-potential peatlands. Further, we find that treed peatlands are a common feature in the wildland–human interface and that proportionally, the area of high smouldering potential is greater closer to roads compared with farther away. Our approach enables a quantitative measure of smouldering fire potential and evidences the need to incorporate peatland–wildfire interactions into wildfire management operations. We suggest that similar frameworks could be used in other peatland dominated regions as part of smouldering fire risk assessments.

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Ten best practices to strengthen stewardship and sharing of water science data in Canada
Bhaleka Persaud, K. A. Dukacz, Gopal Chandra Saha, A. Peterson, L. Moradi, Simon Hearn, Erin Clary, Juliane Mai, Michael Steeleworthy, Jason J. Venkiteswaran, Homa Kheyrollah Pour, Brent B. Wolfe, Sean K. Carey, John W. Pomeroy, C. M. DeBeer, J. M. Waddington, Philippe Van Cappellen, Jimmy Lin
Hydrological Processes, Volume 35, Issue 11

Water science data are a valuable asset that both underpins the original research project and bolsters new research questions, particularly in view of the increasingly complex water issues facing Canada and the world. Whilst there is general support for making data more broadly accessible, and a number of water science journals and funding agencies have adopted policies that require researchers to share data in accordance with the FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) principles, there are still questions about effective management of data to protect their usefulness over time. Incorporating data management practices and standards at the outset of a water science research project will enable researchers to efficiently locate, analyze and use data throughout the project lifecycle, and will ensure the data maintain their value after the project has ended. Here, some common misconceptions about data management are highlighted, along with insights and practical advice to assist established and early career water science researchers as they integrate data management best practices and tools into their research. Freely available tools and training opportunities made available in Canada through Global Water Futures, the Portage Network, Gordon Foundation's DataStream, Compute Canada, and university libraries, among others are compiled. These include webinars, training videos, and individual support for the water science community that together enable researchers to protect their data assets and meet the expectations of journals and funders. The perspectives shared here have been developed as part of the Global Water Futures programme's efforts to improve data management and promote the use of common data practices and standards in the context of water science in Canada. Ten best practices are proposed that may be broadly applicable to other disciplines in the natural sciences and can be adopted and adapted globally. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.


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Seismic Lines in Treed Boreal Peatlands as Analogs for Wildfire Fuel Modification Treatments
Patrick Jeffrey Deane, Sophie Wilkinson, Paul A. Moore, J. M. Waddington
Fire, Volume 3, Issue 2

Across the Boreal, there is an expansive wildland–society interface (WSI), where communities, infrastructure, and industry border natural ecosystems, exposing them to the impacts of natural disturbances, such as wildfire. Treed peatlands have previously received little attention with regard to wildfire management; however, their role in fire spread, and the contribution of peat smouldering to dangerous air pollution, have recently been highlighted. To help develop effective wildfire management techniques in treed peatlands, we use seismic line disturbance as an analog for peatland fuel modification treatments. To delineate below-ground hydrocarbon resources using seismic waves, seismic lines are created by removing above-ground (canopy) fuels using heavy machinery, forming linear disturbances through some treed peatlands. We found significant differences in moisture content and peat bulk density with depth between seismic line and undisturbed plots, where smouldering combustion potential was lower in seismic lines. Sphagnum mosses dominated seismic lines and canopy fuel load was reduced for up to 55 years compared to undisturbed peatlands. Sphagnum mosses had significantly lower smouldering potential than feather mosses (that dominate mature, undisturbed peatlands) in a laboratory drying experiment, suggesting that fuel modification treatments following a strategy based on seismic line analogs would be effective at reducing smouldering potential at the WSI, especially under increasing fire weather.

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Increasing contribution of peatlands to boreal evapotranspiration in a warming climate
Manuel Helbig, J. M. Waddington, Pavel Alekseychik, B.D. Amiro, Mika Aurela, Alan G. Barr, T. Andrew Black, Peter D. Blanken, Sean K. Carey, Jiquan Chen, Jinshu Chi, Ankur R. Desai, Allison L. Dunn, Eugénie Euskirchen, Lawrence B. Flanagan, Inke Forbrich, Thomas Friborg, Achim Grelle, Silvie Harder, Michal Heliasz, Elyn Humphreys, Hiroki Ikawa, Pierre‐Érik Isabelle, Hiroyasu Iwata, Rachhpal S. Jassal, Mika Korkiakoski, Juliya Kurbatova, Lars Kutzbach, Anders Lindroth, Mikaell Ottosson Löfvenius, Annalea Lohila, Ivan Mammarella, Philip Marsh, Trofim C. Maximov, Joe R. Melton, Paul A. Moore, Daniel F. Nadeau, Erin M. Nicholls, Mats Nilsson, Takeshi Ohta, Matthias Peichl, Richard M. Petrone, Roman E. Petrov, Anatoly Prokushkin, William L. Quinton, David E. Reed, Nigel T. Roulet, Benjamin R. K. Runkle, Oliver Sonnentag, I. B. Strachan, Pierre Taillardat, Eeva‐Stiina Tuittila, Juha‐Pekka Tuovinen, J. Turner, Masahito Ueyama, Andrej Varlagin, Martin Wilmking, Steven C. Wofsy, Vyacheslav Zyrianov
Nature Climate Change, Volume 10, Issue 6

The response of evapotranspiration (ET) to warming is of critical importance to the water and carbon cycle of the boreal biome, a mosaic of land cover types dominated by forests and peatlands. The effect of warming-induced vapour pressure deficit (VPD) increases on boreal ET remains poorly understood because peatlands are not specifically represented as plant functional types in Earth system models. Here we show that peatland ET increases more than forest ET with increasing VPD using observations from 95 eddy covariance tower sites. At high VPD of more than 2 kPa, peatland ET exceeds forest ET by up to 30%. Future (2091–2100) mid-growing season peatland ET is estimated to exceed forest ET by over 20% in about one-third of the boreal biome for RCP4.5 and about two-thirds for RCP8.5. Peatland-specific ET responses to VPD should therefore be included in Earth system models to avoid biases in water and carbon cycle projections.

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Shallow peat is most vulnerable to high peat burn severity during wildfire
Sophie Wilkinson, Alex M. Tekatch, Chantel E. Markle, Paul A. Moore, J. M. Waddington
Environmental Research Letters, Volume 15, Issue 10

Abstract Peatlands typically act as carbon sinks, however, increasing wildfire severity and annual area burned may challenge this carbon sink status. Whilst most peat resistance to wildfire and drought research is based on deep peatlands that rarely lose their water table below the peat profile, shallow peatlands and peat deposits may be most vulnerable to high peat burn severity and extensive carbon loss. To examine the role of pre-fire peat depth on peat burn severity, we measured the depth of burn (DOB) in peat of varying depths (0.1–1.6 m) within a rock barrens landscape. We found that DOB (0–0.4 m) decreased with increasing pre-fire peat depth, and that there was a strong correlation between the percent of the profile that burned and pre-fire peat depth. Breakpoint analysis indicates a threshold depth of 0.66 m where deeper peat deposits experienced little impact of wildfire, whereas shallower peat typically experienced high peat burn severity (median percent burned = 2.2 and 65.1, respectively). This threshold also corresponded to the loss of the water table in some nearby unburned peatlands, where water table drawdown rates were greater in shallower peat. We suggest that peat depth may control peat burn severity through feedbacks that regulate water table drawdown. As such, we argue that the identification of a critical peat depth threshold could have important implications for wildfire management and peatland restoration aiming to protect vulnerable carbon stores.

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The biophysical climate mitigation potential of boreal peatlands during the growing season
Manuel Helbig, J. M. Waddington, Pavel Alekseychik, B.D. Amiro, Mika Aurela, Alan G. Barr, T. Andrew Black, Sean K. Carey, Jiquan Chen, Jinshu Chi, Ankur R. Desai, Allison L. Dunn, Eugénie Euskirchen, Lawrence B. Flanagan, Thomas Friborg, Michelle Garneau, Achim Grelle, Silvie Harder, Michal Heliasz, Elyn Humphreys, Hiroki Ikawa, Pierre‐Érik Isabelle, Hiroyasu Iwata, Rachhpal S. Jassal, Mika Korkiakoski, Juliya Kurbatova, Lars Kutzbach, Е. Д. Лапшина, Anders Lindroth, Mikaell Ottosson Löfvenius, Annalea Lohila, Ivan Mammarella, Philip Marsh, Paul A. Moore, Trofim C. Maximov, Daniel F. Nadeau, Erin M. Nicholls, Mats Nilsson, Takeshi Ohta, Matthias Peichl, Richard M. Petrone, Anatoly Prokushkin, William L. Quinton, Nigel T. Roulet, Benjamin R. K. Runkle, Oliver Sonnentag, I. B. Strachan, Pierre Taillardat, Eeva‐Stiina Tuittila, Juha‐Pekka Tuovinen, J. Turner, Masahito Ueyama, Andrej Varlagin, Timo Vesala, Martin Wilmking, Vyacheslav Zyrianov, Christopher Schulze
Environmental Research Letters, Volume 15, Issue 10

Peatlands and forests cover large areas of the boreal biome and are critical for global climate regulation. They also regulate regional climate through heat and water vapour exchange with the atmosphere. Understanding how land-atmosphere interactions in peatlands differ from forests may therefore be crucial for modelling boreal climate system dynamics and for assessing climate benefits of peatland conservation and restoration. To assess the biophysical impacts of peatlands and forests on peak growing season air temperature and humidity, we analysed surface energy fluxes and albedo from 35 peatlands and 37 evergreen needleleaf forests - the dominant boreal forest type - and simulated air temperature and vapour pressure deficit (VPD) over hypothetical homogeneous peatland and forest landscapes. We ran an evapotranspiration model using land surface parameters derived from energy flux observations and coupled an analytical solution for the surface energy balance to an atmospheric boundary layer (ABL) model. We found that peatlands, compared to forests, are characterized by higher growing season albedo, lower aerodynamic conductance, and higher surface conductance for an equivalent VPD. This combination of peatland surface properties results in a ∼20% decrease in afternoon ABL height, a cooling (from 1.7 to 2.5 °C) in afternoon air temperatures, and a decrease in afternoon VPD (from 0.4 to 0.7 kPa) for peatland landscapes compared to forest landscapes. These biophysical climate impacts of peatlands are most pronounced at lower latitudes (∼45°N) and decrease toward the northern limit of the boreal biome (∼70°N). Thus, boreal peatlands have the potential to mitigate the effect of regional climate warming during the growing season. The biophysical climate mitigation potential of peatlands needs to be accounted for when projecting the future climate of the boreal biome, when assessing the climate benefits of conserving pristine boreal peatlands, and when restoring peatlands that have experienced peatland drainage and mining. © 2020 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd. (Less)

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Hydrophobicity of peat soils: Characterization of organic compound changes associated with heat-induced water repellency
Yichen Wu, Nan Zhang, G. F. Slater, J. M. Waddington, Charles‐François de Lannoy
Science of The Total Environment, Volume 714

Boreal peatlands provide critical global and regional ecosystem functions including climate regulation and nutrient and water retention. Wildfire represents the largest disturbance to these ecosystems. Peatland resilience depends greatly on the extent of post-fire peat soil hydrophobicity. Climate change is altering wildfire intensity and severity and consequently impacting post-fire peat soil chemistry and structure. However, research on fire-impacted peatlands has rarely considered the influence of peat soil chemistry and structure on peatland resilience. Here we characterized the geochemical and physical properties of natural peat soils under laboratory heating conditions. The general trend observed is that hydrophilic peat soils become hydrophobic under moderate heating and then become hydrophilic again after heating for longer, or at higher, temperatures. The loss of peat soil hydrophilicity initially occurs due to evaporative water loss (250 °C and 300 °C for <5 min). Gently but thoroughly dried peat soils (105 °C for 24 h) also show mass losses after heating, indicating the loss of organic compounds through thermal degradation. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy were used to characterize the chemistry of unburned and 300 °C burned peat soils, and various fatty acids, polycyclic compounds, saccharides, aromatic acids, short-chain molecules, lignin and carbohydrates were identified. We determined that the heat-induced degradation of polycyclic compounds and aliphatic hydrocarbons, especially fatty acids, caused dried, hydrophobic peat soils to become hydrophilic after only 20 min of heating at 300 °C. Furthermore, peat soils became hydrophilic more quickly (20 min vs 6 h) with an increase in heat from 250 °C to 300 °C. Minimal structural changes occurred, as characterized by BET and SEM analyses, confirming that surface chemistry, in particular fatty acid content, rather than structure govern changes in peat soil hydrophobicity.


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Postfire Soil Carbon Accumulation Does Not Recover Boreal Peatland Combustion Loss in Some Hydrogeological Settings
Rebekah Ingram, Paul A. Moore, Sophie Wilkinson, Richard M. Petrone, J. M. Waddington
Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, Volume 124, Issue 4

Deep peat burning at the interface between subhumid Boreal Plains (BP) peatlands and forestlands (margin ecotones) in some hydrogeological settings has brought into question the long‐term stability of these peatlands under current and future predicted climate. Small peatlands located at midtopographic positions on coarse sediments have been identified as hot spots for severe burning, as these peatland margins are not regularly connected to regional groundwater flow. The ability of these peatland systems to recover carbon lost from both the interior and margin within the fire return interval, however, has not yet been investigated. Here we examine peatland soil carbon accumulation along a chronosequence of time since fire for 26 BP ombrotrophic bogs located across a range of hydrogeological settings. Soil organic carbon accumulation following wildfire does not appear to be influenced by hydrogeological setting; however, the ability of a peatland to recover the quantity of carbon lost within the fire return interval is dependent on the amount of carbon that was released through smoldering, which is influenced by hydrogeological setting for peatland margins. Based on published measurements of organic soil carbon loss during wildfire and our soil carbon accumulation rates, we suggest that peatlands located at topographic lows on coarse‐grained glaciofluvial outwash sediments or on low‐relief, fine‐grained sediment deposits from glaciolacustrine or subglacial paleoenvironments are currently resilient to wildfire on the BP landscape. Peatlands that experience severe smoldering at the margins, such as ephemerally perched systems on glaciofluvial outwash sediments, will likely undergo permanent loss of legacy carbon stores.

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Severe wildfire exposes remnant peat carbon stocks to increased post-fire drying
Nicholas Kettridge, Max Lukenbach, Kelly Hokanson, K. J. Devito, Richard M. Petrone, Carl Mendoza, J. M. Waddington
Scientific Reports, Volume 9, Issue 1

The potential of high severity wildfires to increase global terrestrial carbon emissions and exacerbate future climatic warming is of international concern. Nowhere is this more prevalent than within high latitude regions where peatlands have, over millennia, accumulated legacy carbon stocks comparable to all human CO2 emissions since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Drying increases rates of peat decomposition and associated atmospheric and aquatic carbon emissions. The degree to which severe wildfires enhance drying under future climates and induce instability in peatland ecological communities and carbon stocks is unknown. Here we show that high burn severities increased post-fire evapotranspiration by 410% within a feather moss peatland by burning through the protective capping layer that restricts evaporative drying in response to low severity burns. High burn severities projected under future climates will therefore leave peatlands that dominate dry sub-humid regions across the boreal, on the edge of their climatic envelopes, more vulnerable to intense post-fire drying, inducing high rates of carbon loss to the atmosphere that amplify the direct combustion emissions.

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Assessing Drivers of Cross-Scale Variability in Peat Smoldering Combustion Vulnerability in Forested Boreal Peatlands
Sophie Wilkinson, Paul A. Moore, J. M. Waddington
Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, Volume 2

Wildfire represents the largest areal disturbance of forested boreal peatlands and the spatial variability in the severity of these peat fires is both a leading source of uncertainty in boreal wildfire carbon emissions and a major challenge for regional wildfire management. Peat smouldering can emit large quantities of carbon and smoke to the atmosphere, and therefore can contribute to hazardous air quality. The wildland-industry interface and wildland-urban interface are both extensive across the sub-humid boreal plains (BP) ecozone where one-third of the area is covered by peatlands. As such, there is a growing research need to identify drivers of variability in smouldering combustion. This study uses hydrophysical peat properties to assess the drivers of cross-scale variability in peat smouldering combustion vulnerability in forested peatlands across the BP. Using a space-for-time chronosequence across the 120-year fire return interval and three main hydrogeological settings, and by incorporating hummock, hollow and margin locations, cross-scale variability is studied. We find that, based on peat properties such as specific yield (Sy) and gravimetric water content, forested peatland margins represent areas of high peat smouldering vulnerability, and that this is exacerbated with an increasing time-since-fire (stand-age). Although increasing Sy with time-since-fire in peatland middles may buffer water table drawdown, when accounting for increases in canopy fuel load, transpiration, and feather moss dominance forested peatland middles also become more vulnerable to smouldering combustion with time-since-fire. Moreover, the interaction of peatland margins with coarse- and heterogeneous-grained hydrogeological settings leads to lower Sy and higher density margin peat than in fine-grained settings, further increasing smouldering vulnerability. We estimate that forested peatland margins are vulnerable to combustion throughout their entire profile i.e. burn-out, under moderate-high water deficits in the BP. Furthermore, we identify peatland margin: total area ratio as a driver of smouldering vulnerability where small peatlands that are periodically disconnected from regional groundwater systems are the most vulnerable to high total peat carbon loss. We suggest that these drivers of cross-scale variability should be incorporated into peatland and wildfire management strategies, especially in areas near the wildland-industry and wildland-urban interface.

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Threshold peat burn severity breaks evaporation‐limiting feedback
Sophie Wilkinson, Gregory J. Verkaik, Paul A. Moore, J. M. Waddington
Ecohydrology, Volume 13, Issue 1

A suite of autogenic ecohydrological feedbacks and moss traits are important for protecting vast peatland carbon stocks following wildfire disturbance. Here, we examine how peat burn severity and water table depth (WTD) affect the strength of one such feedback—the hydrophobicity–evaporation feedback (HEF). The HEF is an evaporation‐limiting feedback known to minimize water loss following wildfire. The peatland surface becomes hydrophobic creating an evaporative cap and thereby reducing post‐fire evaporation; however, recent studies hypothesize that this is dependent on peat burn severity. To test this hypothesis, we studied plots along a peat burn severity gradient in a partially drained black spruce peatland that burned during the 2016 Fort McMurray Horse River wildfire. Evaporation rates were significantly lower in plots where hydrophobicity was present. Hydrophobicity was lowest in the severely burned area, and the average instantaneous evaporation rate (2.75 mm day−1) was significantly higher than moderately and typical‐lightly burned areas (0.82 and 1.64 mm day−1, respectively). Based on lab results, increasing WTD affected hydrophobicity within lightly burned (singed) feather moss samples but not in heavily burned feather moss, showing the importance of post‐fire ground cover and in situ WTD. Our results provide evidence of a burn severity threshold where increased depth of burn removes the feather moss evaporative cap and causes the HEF to break down. We argue that this threshold has important implications for boreal peatlands, which are predicted to undergo climate‐mediated pre‐fire drying and increasing burn severities, potentially leading to further carbon losses due to enhanced post‐fire drying and concomitant decomposition.

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Hydraulic redistribution and hydrological controls on aspen transpiration and establishment in peatlands following wildfire
Midori Depante, Matthew Q. Morison, Richard M. Petrone, K. J. Devito, Nicholas Kettridge, J. M. Waddington
Hydrological Processes, Volume 33, Issue 21

Abstract In the sub‐humid Western Boreal Plains of Alberta, where evapotranspiration often exceeds precipitation, trembling aspen ( Populus tremuloides Michx.) uplands often depend on adjacent peatlands for water supply through hydraulic redistribution. Wildfire is common in the Boreal Plains, so the resilience of the transfer of water from peatlands to uplands through roots immediately following wildfire may have implications for aspen succession. The objective of this research was to characterize post‐fire peatland‐upland hydraulic connectivity and assess controls on aspen transpiration (as a measure of stress and productivity) among landscape topographic positions. In May 2011, a wildfire affected 90,000 ha of north central Alberta, including the Utikuma Region Study Area (URSA). Portions of an URSA glacio‐fluval outwash lake catchment were burned, which included forests and a small peatland. Within 1 year after the fire, aspen were found to be growing in both the interior and margins of this peatland. Across recovering land units, transpiration varied along a topographic gradient of upland midslope (0.42 mm hr −1 ) > upland hilltop (0.29 mm hr −1 ) > margin (0.23 mm hr −1 ) > peatland (0.10 mm hr −1 ); similar trends were observed with leaf area and stem heights. Although volumetric water content was below field capacity, P. tremuloides were sustained through roots present, likely before fire, in peatland margins through hydraulic redistribution. Evidence for this was observed through the analysis of oxygen (δ 18 O) and hydrogen (δ 2 H) isotopes where upland xylem and peat core signatures were −10.0‰ and −117.8‰ and −9.2‰ and −114.0‰, respectively. This research highlights the potential importance of hydraulic redistribution to forest sustainability and recovery, in which the continued delivery of water may result in the encroachment of aspen into peatlands. As such, we suggest that through altering ecosystem services, peatland margins following fire may be at risk to aspen colonization during succession.

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Validity of managing peatlands with fire
Andy J. Baird, C. D. Evans, Robert Mills, Paul J. Morris, Susan Page, Mike Peacock, Mark Reed, Bjorn J. M. Robroek, R. E. Stoneman, Graeme T. Swindles, Tim Thom, J. M. Waddington, Dylan M. Young
Nature Geoscience, Volume 12, Issue 11

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Assessing the peatland hummock–hollow classification framework using high-resolution elevation models: implications for appropriate complexity ecosystem modeling
Paul A. Moore, Max Lukenbach, Dan K. Thompson, Nicholas Kettridge, Gustaf Granath, J. M. Waddington
Biogeosciences, Volume 16, Issue 18

Abstract. The hummock–hollow classification framework used to categorize peatland ecosystem microtopography is pervasive throughout peatland experimental designs and current peatland ecosystem modeling approaches. However, identifying what constitutes a representative hummock–hollow pair within a site and characterizing hummock–hollow variability within or between peatlands remains largely unassessed. Using structure from motion (SfM), high-resolution digital elevation models (DEMs) of hummock–hollow microtopography were used to (1) examine how much area needs to be sampled to characterize site-level microtopographic variation; and (2) examine the potential role of microtopographic shape/structure on biogeochemical fluxes using plot-level data from nine northern peatlands. To capture 95 % of site-level microtopographic variability, on average, an aggregate sampling area of 32 m2 composed of 10 randomly located plots was required. Both site- (i.e. transect data) and plot-level (i.e. SfM-derived DEM) results show that microtopographic variability can be described as a fractal at the submeter scale, where contributions to total variance are very small below a 0.5 m length scale. Microtopography at the plot level was often found to be non-bimodal, as assessed using a Gaussian mixture model (GMM). Our findings suggest that the non-bimodal distribution of microtopography at the plot level may result in an undersampling of intermediate topographic positions. Extended to the modeling domain, an underrepresentation of intermediate microtopographic positions is shown to lead to potentially large flux biases over a wide range of water table positions for ecosystem processes which are non-linearly related to water and energy availability at the moss surface. Moreover, our simple modeling results suggest that much of the bias can be eliminated by representing microtopography with several classes rather than the traditional two (i.e. hummock/hollow). A range of tools examined herein can be used to easily parameterize peatland models, from GMMs used as simple transfer functions to spatially explicit fractal landscapes based on simple power-law relations between microtopographic variability and scale.


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Environmental and taxonomic controls of carbon and oxygen stable isotope composition in <i>Sphagnum</i> across broad climatic and geographic ranges
Gustaf Granath, Håkan Rydin, Jennifer L. Baltzer, Fia Bengtsson, Nicholas Boncek, Luca Bragazza, Zhao‐Jun Bu, S. J. M. Caporn, Ellen Dorrepaal, О. В. Галанина, Mariusz Gałka, Anna Ganeva, David P. Gillikin, Irina Goia, N. D. Goncharova, Michal Hájek, Akira Haraguchi, Lorna I. Harris, Elyn Humphreys, Martin Jiroušek, Katarzyna Kajukało, Edgar Karofeld, Natalia G. Koronatova, Natalia P. Kosykh, Mariusz Lamentowicz, Е. Д. Лапшина, Juul Limpens, Maiju Linkosalmi, Jinze Ma, Marguerite Mauritz, Tariq Muhammad Munir, Susan M. Natali, Rayna Natcheva, Maria​ Noskova, Richard J. Payne, Kyle Pilkington, Sean M. Robinson, Bjorn J. M. Robroek, Line Rochefort, David Singer, Hans K. Stenøien, Eeva‐Stiina Tuittila, Kai Vellak, Anouk Verheyden, J. M. Waddington, Steven K. Rice

Abstract. Rain-fed peatlands are dominated by peat mosses (Sphagnum sp.), which for their growth depend on elements from the atmosphere. As the isotopic composition of carbon (12,13C) and oxygen (16,18O) of these Sphagnum mosses are affected by environmental conditions, the dead Sphagnum tissue accumulated in peat constitutes a potential long-term archive that can be used for climate reconstruction. However, there is a lack of adequate understanding of how isotope values are influenced by environmental conditions, which restricts their current use as environmental and palaeoenvironmental indicators. Here we tested (i) to what extent C and O isotopic variation in living tissue of Sphagnum is species-specific and associated with local hydrological gradients, climatic gradients (evapotranspiration, temperature, precipitation), and elevation; (ii) if the C isotopic signature can be a proxy for net primary productivity (NPP) of Sphagnum; and (iii) to what extent Sphagnum tissue δ18O tracks the δ18O isotope signature of precipitation. In total, we analysed 337 samples from 93 sites across North America and Eurasia using two important peat-forming Sphagnum species (S. magellanicum, S. fuscum) common to the Holartic realm. There were differences in δ13C values between species. For S. magellanicum δ13C decreased with increasing height above the water table (HWT, R2 = 17 %) and was positively correlated to productivity (R2 = 7 %). Together these two variables explained 46 % of the between-site variation in δ13C values. For S. fuscum, productivity was the only significant predictor of δ13C (total R2 = 6 %). For δ18O values, ca. 90 % of the variation was found between sites. Globally-modelled annual δ18O values in precipitation explained 69% of the between-site variation in tissue δ18O. S. magellanicum showed lower δ18O enrichment than S. fuscum (−0.83 ‰ lower) . Elevation and climatic variables were weak predictors of tissue δ18O values after controlling for δ18O values of the precipitation. To summarise, our study provides evidence for (a) good predictability of tissue δ18O values from modelled annual δ18O values in precipitation, and (b) the possibility to relate tissue δ13C values to HWT and NPP, but this appears to be species-dependent. These results suggest that isotope composition can be used at a large scale for climatic reconstructions but that such models should be species-specific.

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Potential influence of nutrient availability along a hillslope: Peatland gradient on aspen recovery following fire
Midori Depante, Richard M. Petrone, K. J. Devito, Nicholas Kettridge, Merrin L. Macrae, Carl Mendoza, J. M. Waddington
Ecohydrology, Volume 11, Issue 5

The Boreal Plains (BP) of Western Canada have been exposed to increasing disturbance by wildfire and host a mixture of upland‐wetland‐pond complexes with substantial quantities of trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) throughout the terrestrial areas. The ability of these tree species to regenerate within both upland and wetland areas of the BP following wildfire is unclear. The purpose of this study was to investigate the influence of fire on nutrient dynamics in soil and water in peatlands and forested landscapes in the BP and relate this to aspen regeneration. Nutrient concentrations, nutrient supply rates, and net nutrient mineralization rates were determined in burned and unburned sections of a peatland and forest and compared with the regeneration of aspen. NO3−, NH4+, and P varied spatially throughout the landscape, and differences were observed between peatland and upland areas. In general, differences in nutrient dynamics were not observed between burned and unburned areas, with the exception of P. Nutrient and growth data suggest that aspen do not require nutrient‐rich conditions for regeneration and instead relied on forest litter to satisfy nutrient demands. Although the peatlands contained high nutrients, aspen did not flourish in the combination of anoxic and aerobic organic‐rich soils present in this area. Although aspen may use peat water and nutrients through their rooting zones, peatlands are unsuitable for aspen re‐establishment in the long‐term. However, the combination of abundant nutrients in surface mineral soils in peat margins may indicate the vulnerability of margins to upland transformations in later successional stages.

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A hydrogeological landscape framework to identify peatland wildfire smouldering hot spots
Kelly Hokanson, Paul A. Moore, Max Lukenbach, K. J. Devito, Nicholas Kettridge, R. M. Petrone, Carl Mendoza, J. M. Waddington
Ecohydrology, Volume 11, Issue 4

Northern peatlands are important global carbon stores, but there is concern that these boreal peat reserves are at risk due to increased fire frequency and severity as predicted by climate change models. In a subhumid climate, hydrogeological position is an important control on peatland hydrology and wildfire vulnerability. Consequently, we hypothesized that in a coarse‐textured glaciofluvial outwash, isolated peatlands lacking the moderating effect of large‐scale groundwater flow would have greater water table (WT) variability and would also be more vulnerable to deep WT drawdown and wildfire during dry climate cycles. A holistic approach was taken to evaluate 3 well‐accepted factors that are associated with smouldering in boreal peatlands: hollow microform coverage, peatland margin morphometry, and gravimetric water content. Using a combination of field measurements (bulk density, humification, WT position, hummock–hollow distribution, and margin width) and modelling (1‐D vertical unsaturated flow coupled with a simple peat–fuel energy balance equation), we assessed the vulnerability of peat to smouldering. We found that a peatland in the regionally intermediate topographic position is the most vulnerable to smouldering due to the interaction of variable connectivity to large‐scale groundwater flow and the absence of mineral stratigraphy for limiting WT declines during dry conditions. Our findings represent a novel assessment framework and tool for fire managers by providing a priori knowledge of potential peat smouldering hot spot locations in the landscape to efficiently allocate resources and reduce emergency response time to smouldering events.

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Disturbance Impacts on Thermal Hot Spots and Hot Moments at the Peatland-Atmosphere Interface
Rhoswen Leonard, Nicholas Kettridge, K. J. Devito, Richard M. Petrone, Carl Mendoza, J. M. Waddington, Stefan Krause
Geophysical Research Letters, Volume 45, Issue 1

Soil‐surface temperature acts as a master variable driving nonlinear terrestrial ecohydrological, biogeochemical, and micrometeorological processes, inducing short‐lived or spatially isolated extremes across heterogeneous landscape surfaces. However, subcanopy soil‐surface temperatures have been, to date, characterized through isolated, spatially discrete measurements. Using spatially complex forested northern peatlands as an exemplar ecosystem, we explore the high‐resolution spatiotemporal thermal behavior of this critical interface and its response to disturbances by using Fiber‐Optic Distributed Temperature Sensing. Soil‐surface thermal patterning was identified from 1.9 million temperature measurements under undisturbed, trees removed and vascular subcanopy removed conditions. Removing layers of the structurally diverse vegetation canopy not only increased mean temperatures but it shifted the spatial and temporal distribution, range, and longevity of thermal hot spots and hot moments. We argue that linking hot spots and/or hot moments with spatially variable ecosystem processes and feedbacks is key for predicting ecosystem function and resilience.

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Delineating boreal plains bog margin ecotones across hydrogeological settings for wildfire risk management
Kristyn M. Mayner, Paul A. Moore, Sophie Wilkinson, Richard M. Petrone, J. M. Waddington
Wetlands Ecology and Management, Volume 26, Issue 6

Canada’s Boreal Plains peatland vegetation species assemblages are characterized by their functional ecosystem roles and feedbacks, which are important for carbon and water storage in a sub-humid climate. The vegetation communities at the peatland-upland interface, or the peatland margin ecotone, have not been extensively delineated or characterized as a distinct ecotone. Because these ecotones constitute a smouldering “hotspot” during wildfire, with carbon loss from these margins accounting for 50–90% of total peatland carbon loss, their delineation is critical. Post-fire, areas of severe peat smouldering have previously been shown to undergo shifts in vegetation community composition, resulting in a loss of key peatland ecohydrological functions. The aim of this study was to delineate Boreal Plains peatland margin ecotones and assess their prevalence across the landscape. Using split moving window analysis on vegetation transect data from a chronosequence of study sites, the margin ecotones were delineated at sites having different times since fire. No significant differences were identified in margin width over time or margin peat depths across hydrogeological settings. However, with peat depths of up to 2.46 m in small peatlands characteristic of moraine and glaciofluvial deposits, vulnerable margin peat has been demonstrated to represent a significant carbon store. Fire managers employing peatland fuel treatments for wildfire abatement and community protection should consider these confined peatlands more carefully to mitigate catastrophic carbon losses. Further, we suggest that a greater understanding is needed of the roles of peatland margin ecotones in sustaining peatland autogenic feedback mechanisms that promote paludification and recovery following wildfire.

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The effects of black spruce fuel management on surface fuel condition and peat burn severity in an experimental fire
Sophie Wilkinson, Paul A. Moore, Dan K. Thompson, B. M. Wotton, Steven Hvenegaard, Dave Schroeder, J. M. Waddington
Canadian Journal of Forest Research, Volume 48, Issue 12

In the boreal plains ecozone, black spruce (Picea mariana (Mill.) Britton, Sterns & Poggenb.) peatlands can represent large parts of the expanding wildland–urban interface (WUI) and wildland–indust...

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Did enhanced afforestation cause high severity peat burn in the Fort McMurray Horse River wildfire?
Sophie Wilkinson, Paul A. Moore, Mike D. Flannigan, B. M. Wotton, J. M. Waddington
Environmental Research Letters, Volume 13, Issue 1

Climate change mediated drying of boreal peatlands is expected to enhance peatland afforestation and wildfire vulnerability. The water table depth–afforestation feedback represents a positive feedback that can enhance peat drying and consolidation and thereby increase peat burn severity; exacerbating the challenges and costs of wildfire suppression efforts and potentially shifting the peatland to a persistent source of atmospheric carbon. To address this wildfire management challenge, we examined burn severity across a gradient of drying in a black spruce dominated peatland that was partially drained in 1975−1980 and burned in the 2016 Fort McMurray Horse River wildfire. We found that post-drainage black spruce annual ring width increased substantially with intense drainage. Average (±SD) basal diameter was 2.6 ± 1.2 cm, 3.2 ± 2.0 cm and 7.9 ± 4.7 cm in undrained (UD), moderately drained (MD) and heavily drained (HD) treatments, respectively. Depth of burn was significantly different between treatments (p < 0.001) and averaged (±SD) 2.5 ± 3.5 cm, 6.4 ± 5.0 cm and 36.9 ± 29.6 cm for the UD, MD and HD treatments, respectively. The high burn severity in the HD treatment included 38% of the treatment that experienced combustion of the entire peat profile, and we estimate that overall 51% of the HD pre-burn peat carbon stock was lost. We argue that the HD treatment surpassed an ecohydrological tipping point to high severity peat burn that may be identified using black spruce stand characteristics in boreal plains bogs. While further studies are needed, we believe that quantifying this threshold will aid in developing effective adaptive management techniques and protecting boreal peatland carbon stocks.


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Peatland water repellency: Importance of soil water content, moss species, and burn severity
Paul A. Moore, Max Lukenbach, Nicholas Kettridge, Richard M. Petrone, K. J. Devito, J. M. Waddington
Journal of Hydrology, Volume 554

Abstract Wildfire is the largest disturbance affecting peatlands, with northern peat reserves expected to become more vulnerable to wildfire as climate change enhances the length and severity of the fire season. Recent research suggests that high water table positions after wildfire are critical to limit atmospheric carbon losses and enable the re-establishment of keystone peatland mosses (i.e. Sphagnum). Post-fire recovery of the moss surface in Sphagnum-feathermoss peatlands, however, has been shown to be limited where moss type and burn severity interact to result in a water repellent surface. While in situ measurements of moss water repellency in peatlands have been shown to be greater for feathermoss in both a burned and unburned state in comparison to Sphagnum moss, it is difficult to separate the effect of water content from species. Consequently, we carried out a laboratory based drying experiment where we compared the water repellency of two dominant peatland moss species, Sphagnum and feathermoss, for several burn severity classes including unburned samples. The results suggest that water repellency in moss is primarily controlled by water content, where a sharp threshold exists at gravimetric water contents (GWC) lower than ∼1.4 g g−1. While GWC is shown to be a strong predictor of water repellency, the effect is enhanced by burning. Based on soil water retention curves, we suggest that it is highly unlikely that Sphagnum will exhibit strong hydrophobic conditions under field conditions.