A Precious Ecosystem at Risk
Peatlands are created when dead vegetation subsides, partially decayed and partially preserved, into waterlogged landscapes or when the water table rises, overtaking the vegetation. Essential, but long overlooked, peatlands are the superheroes of ecosystems: purifying water, sometimes mitigating flooding, and providing a home for a multitude of rare species. And they are champions of carbon storage. Yet they are threatened with extinction, as they are being crowded out by development and drained for agriculture.
Ecosystem extinction is as – or more – important to understand as is the extinction of the more visible extinction threats to individual, and more charismatic species like the rhino, panda or polar bear. As climate change, pollution, urban, industrial and agricultural developments continue to take their toll on ecosystems such as peatlands, the already alarming rates of extinction will accelerate.
Peatlands – which are known as pocosins on the Atlantic coast – and the groundwater that sustains them are by far the most complex and most important ecosystems in the world. They may have a very small footprint but play an essential role. Known peatlands – we continue to discover them in places such as the Rockies and the Congo where we never knew they existed – cover only 3% of the world’s land surface, but they punch far above their weight when it comes to storing carbon, regulating climate, filtering water, mitigating flooding, nurturing acid-loving plants and providing refuge for thousands of threatened animals, especially in times of drought, climate warming and extreme wildfire events.
In Peatlands: A Precious Ecosystem at Risk, journalist Edward Struzik introduces us to a magical, and magisterial ecosystem that is threatened, in part, by being less less well known, appreciated, or understood than the classic landscapes of our imaginations. We have long underestimated the beauty and value of peatlands and it is past time to understand that saving peatlands may save the planet.