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"Why is There Peat?": Leading Scientists From Around the World Ask

Thirty of the world's top peat scientists from the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, and Russia converged on the Villanova Conference Center for a two-day workshop on March 27 and 28 to explore the topic, "Why is there Peat?" The workshop was fully supported by a $500,000, five-year NSF Research Coordination Network Grant that created PEATNET, the Peatland Ecosystem Analysis and Training Network.

The PEATNET grant resides at Southern Illinois University, but the project is cooperatively run by a Steering Committee that includes Dale Vitt (SIU); Kel Wieder (Associate Dean for the Sciences, Villanova); Melanie Vile (Villanova, Director of Grant Development); Merrittt Turetsky (Michigan State University); Jill Bubier (Mt. Holyoke College); and Jennifer Harder (U.S. Geological Survey).

"Peat is important," Dr. Wieder said. "Peat-accumulating systems cover only 3 to 4% of the earth's land surface, yet they contain 30% of the world's soil carbon, stored as peat. This carbon used to be carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that was made into plant material by photosynthesis and buried as peat. If this carbon were still in the atmosphere, CO2 concentrations would be 50% higher than they are now, and the world would be much warmer."

Although most people think of peat as occurring in Canadian, FennoScandian, or Siberian regions, it occurs in boreal, temperate, and tropical environments, and can be derived from a wide diversity of plant materials, Dr. Weider said.

"'Why is there Peat?" is a workshop that was designed to put together a synthetic framework for a mechanistic understanding of why peat forms on certain parts of a landscape, but not others, and why peat accumulates to such impressive degrees, Dr. Wieder said. "There may be 'multiple pathways of peat formation,' such that when the right combination of biotic and abiotic factors prevail, peat can form and persist. I have a commitment from the journal Biogeochemistry, a top journal in ecology and ecosystem science, to publish a synthesis paper based upon the results of the two-day conference."

For more information, please contact Dr. Kel Wieder.

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Jennifer Schu

Director of Communications, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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