The bog


iD magazine - - Nature -

In ad­di­tion to serv­ing as a habi­tat for many fas­ci­nat­ing an­i­mal and plant species, bog coun­try also ben­e­fits us by func­tion­ing as a gi­ant stor­age sys­tem: Though they con­sti­tute just 3% of the land area of the Earth, pris­tine peat­lands bind around 550 bil­lion tons of car­bon— twice as much as all the world’s forests com­bined can bind. The prob­lem: Ev­ery year around 1,900 square miles gets de­stroyed. For ex­am­ple, only 5% of Ger­many’s 7,000 square miles is still in­tact, and the UK has lost 90% of its wet­lands over the past 400 years.

Very slowly the wet­lands are awak­en­ing again to new life. Patches of wispy fog soften the first rays of sun­light that warm the moss car­pets and lure the var­i­ous lo­cal res­i­dents out from their hid­ing places. As the black grouse males gather in their arena for their tra­di­tional au­tumn courtship dis­play, an adder slith­ers lan­guidly through the un­der­growth of the bog bil­berry shrubs in search of food. Sun­dews wait for fresh prey to get en­snared by their ten­ta­cle- like ad­he­sive glands. The black bog ants have noth­ing to worry about from th­ese car­niv­o­rous plants—quite the op­po­site: The ants plun­der the plants’ sticky traps and snap up two-thirds of their spoils. All of th­ese spe­cial­ists have be­come per­fectly adapted over the mil­len­nia to their in­hos­pitable, nu­tri­ent- poor en­vi­ron­ment. But the real rulers of the raised bog are unas­sum­ing plants that grow to around 1 foot tall: peat moss. Th­ese bryophytes de­ter­mine the liv­ing con­di­tions for all res­i­dents of the wet­lands by en­sur­ing the high acid con­tent of the bogs… The bogs are treach­er­ous in-be­tween worlds—not wa­ter, not land. Ar­eas of solid ground sud­denly al­ter­nate with boggy sub­soil. The re­as­sur­ing thing: Although you might sink into it, you will not sink com­pletely be­cause the sludge is more dense than the body and so gives us a boost of buoy­ancy.

Slowly but in­ces­santly (one me­ter per mil­len­nium), the bog grows and pre­serves relics of the past in its acidic peat. How­ever, that’s not all: “Wet­lands func­tion as the kid­neys of our land­scapes—they store wa­ter and nu­tri­ents,” ex­plains fresh­wa­ter ecol­o­gist Do­minik Zak. In fact, even in places where the ground ap­pears firm the wa­ter con­tent may be greater than 95%. Peat moss is re­spon­si­ble for this. The plants can ab­sorb up to 40 times their weight in wa­ter and con­tinue to grow up­ward while their base dies off due to the lack of an air sup­ply. In this way they be­come peat and thereby cre­ate a sta­ble ground. Undis­turbed peat­lands also serve as car­bon sinks, bind­ing up to 550 bil­lion tons of Earth’s car­bon, which ex­ceeds the se­ques­tra­tion ca­pac­ity of forests. The prob­lem: Wet­lands are van­ish­ing 10 times faster to­day than the rate at Peat­lands bind more car­bon than all the world’s forests com­bined

which they spread out dur­ing the last Ice Age. For in­stance, of 7,000 square miles of the bog coun­try in Ger­many, only 5% is still con­sid­ered in­tact.

Can you re­sus­ci­tate a bog?

This dan­ger was rec­og­nized a long time ago and there was a con­certed ef­fort to re-flood the dried-out zones. To achieve this the wa­ter level must rise un­til it is just be­low the sur­face of the ground. If the per­fect level is reached—so that no CO2 es­capes— the bright green peat mosses re­turn and the bog will be­gin to grow anew. As long as the land reg­u­larly re­ceives rain­wa­ter it can re­gen­er­ate it­self with the help of a hand­ful of spe­cial­ized plants, thus en­sur­ing—to the de­light of res­i­dents like the black grouse— the ex­is­tence of a won­der of na­ture.

Due to its light weight and the struc­ture of its hooves, this com­pact sheep can graze in bog coun­try with­out sink­ing. This species of but­ter­fly is also closely tied to its boggy habi­tat be­cause it ab­sorbs the wa­ter from moist peat moss. Be­cause of the sha


Un­like the pit vipers, adders don’t have spe­cial heat re­cep­tors for track­ing prey. But th­ese ven­omous snakes are very suc­cess­ful in the wet­lands and can even be found north of the Arc­tic Cir­cle. For al­most 30 years now th­ese pro­cy­onids have been mak­ing th


The pools and ponds of low­land bogs are ideal re­treats for moor frogs, be­cause they’ve adapted per­fectly to the acidic wa­ters. Their eggs tol­er­ate a record-break­ing ph of 4.5— which is unique among am­phib­ians.

The bogs are ex­treme habi­tats in which only true spe­cial­ists can sur­vive.

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