Global peatland initiation driven by regionally asynchronous warming

Paul J Morris, Graeme T Swindles, Paul J Valdes, Ruza F Ivanovic, Lauren J Gregoire, Mark W Smith, Lev Tarasov, Alan M Haywood, Karen L Bacon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)
311 Downloads (Pure)


Widespread establishment of peatlands since the Last Glacial Maximum represents the activation of a globally important carbon sink, but the drivers of peat initiation are unclear. The role of climate in peat initiation is particularly poorly understood. We used a general circulation model to simulate local changes in climate during the initiation of 1,097 peatlands around the world. We find that peat initiation in deglaciated landscapes in both hemispheres was driven primarily by warming growing seasons, likely through enhanced plant productivity, rather than by any increase in effective precipitation. In Western Siberia, which remained ice-free throughout the last glacial period, the initiation of the world's largest peatland complex was globally unique in that it was triggered by an increase in effective precipitation that inhibited soil respiration and allowed wetland plant communities to establish. Peat initiation in the tropics was only weakly related to climate change, and appears to have been driven primarily by nonclimatic mechanisms such as waterlogging due to tectonic subsidence. Our findings shed light on the genesis and Holocene climate space of one of the world's most carbon-dense ecosystem types, with implications for understanding trajectories of ecological change under changing future climates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4851-4856
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number19
Early online date16 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2018


  • Basal date catalog
  • Bioclimate
  • Biogeography
  • Deglaciation
  • GCM

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