Peatlands are little known among the general population, yet they harbour a surprising variety of functions, some of which directly impact on our quality of life.
Peatlands reduce pollution levels in adjacent aquatic ecosystems by cycling elements, storing organic materials and trapping pollutants received from inflowing water or precipitation. Although they exhibit a high water table and are often compared to sponges, peatlands play a limited role in attenuating flood peaks and storm flows in their watershed during wet periods. Their flood attenuation function is highest during dry periods when they also contribute to support low flows in rivers.
Because peatlands accumulate organic matter over time, they represent a significant reservoir of carbon and assist in reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Restoring the natural functions of peatlands after peat harvesting allows the process of carbon sequestration to resume.
The slow rate of decomposition of organic matter in peatlands results in the preservation of information spanning thousands of years. For example, the study of pollen preserved at various depths in a peatland allows scientists to reconstruct climatic conditions and plant ecosystem evolution over the last 12,000 years.
Peatlands are home to a variety of mosses, carnivorous plants, shrubs and orchids that are not common elsewhere. Some of these plants have medicinal properties and are used today in pharmacology. Peatlands also serve as nesting areas and hunting grounds for several species of mammals, birds and insects. For example, the southern bog lemming (Synaptomys cooperi), the dragonfly Somatochlora brevicincta and the palm warbler (Dendroica palmarum) are closely linked with this habitat.
Peatlands offer many opportunities for recreational activities such as a bird-watching and nature photography. A good example of recreational usage is the Mer Bleue Bog in Ottawa, the second largest bog in southern Ontario.
Peat is a popular element in horticulture and other uses. The horticultural peat industry is an important economic driver in the regions where it operates and provides jobs in often remote areas.