plant diversity is high per unit area, yielding long species lists; approximately 100 vascular plant species might occur in a wetland, with 15 to 30 or more species per square meter (Bedford et al. 1999). Typically, a variety of species share dominance, rather than a preponderance of any one species. Oligotrophic conditions occur because fens are fed by groundwater that is low in nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and high in calcium. Calcium is important, not only for its effect on pH but also because it precipitates out phosphorus, lowers nutrient availability, and thereby reduces the chances that any one species will outcompete its associates.
Drainage of fens changes both the hydrology and the soil chemistry. Exposure to surface-water runoff also changes soil chemistry. In both cases, nutrients are released to the fen, allowing opportunistic species the competitive advantage. Draining also exposes any sulfides to oxygen, forming sulfuric acid, which lowers pH and prevents the restoration of calciphilic vegetation, van Duren et al. (1998) reported slightly decreased pH for drained fens in the Netherlands, where additions of lime (calcium carbonate) were ineffective in reestablishing calciphiles. Vegetation was judged nonrestorable, even when surface-water runoff was entrained in a “treatment wetland” just upstream of fen. Likely constraints on restorability were either inflowing nutrients that escaped treatment or persistent acidic soil.
Bogs occur on acidic organic soil (“peat”) that develops over millennia from the accumulation of plant decomposition remains. In eight studies summarized by Johnston (1991), natural peat accretion rates ranged from 0.1 to 3.8 millimeters (mm) per year, which indicates an extremely slow rate of development. Bog drainage exposes the organic soil to aeration, accelerating decomposition and fundamentally altering organic carbon compounds in the soil. Agricultural uses of bogs further alter soil chemistry and structure through tillage, fertilizer inputs, and subsidence as soils compact and oxidize. Peat fires can oxidize in days the organic carbon that has taken centuries to accumulate. Although vegetative cover has been reestablished on bogs that have been subjected to such extreme losses and alterations of substrate, restoration of original plant communities is extremely difficult (Mitsch and Gosselink 2000).
The harvesting of live sphagnum moss from bog surfaces is a small but viable industry (Johnston 1988). Research has demonstrated that natural recovery of the moss surface following harvesting takes about 20 years (Elling and Knighton 1984). In contrast, reclamation of wetlands mined for peat has been very difficult because (1) surface mining causes major changes in local hydrology, (2) peat accumulates at a very slow rate, and