Keep Peat In Place

Peat bogs on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. ALAN NOVELLI / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Peat made two appearances in our pages in 2014, both underscoring the importance of this type of landscape for storing carbon. More such stories in 2017 and again last year made it clear how the case has been building over the years:

Why Saving World’s Peatlands Can Help Stabilize the Climate

Peatlands make up 3 percent of the earth’s landscape, yet absorb large amounts of carbon and harbor surprising biodiversity. Although peat bogs and fens are under increasing environmental threat, efforts to protect and restore these ecosystems are gathering momentum.

Peatlands in northern Canada’s Mackenzie Valley, seen here in autumn. ED STRUZIK

The Aweme borer is a yellowish-brown moth with an inch-and-a half wingspan. In the often-colorful world of lepidopterology — the study of moths and butterflies — it’s not particularly flashy, but it is exceedingly rare. For decades, entomologists thought the moth lived in the sand dunes and oak savannahs in southern Manitoba and the Great Lakes region. No one really knew. Until 2005, only six specimens from four widely scattered locations in North America had ever been found. Many doubted the moth still existed until one was discovered in a peatland fen in the backwoods of upper Michigan in 2009.

That was a game-changing moment for entomologist Kyle Johnson. His easy-going hunt for P. aweme switched gears into an intense one. Instead of focusing on the sand dunes of upper Michigan and Wisconsin, he and his colleagues put on rubber boots, mosquito jackets, and bug hats, and began squishing through dozens of peatland fens, traveling nearly a thousand miles from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to eastern Saskatchewan. In all, Johnson and his colleagues spent 123 nights capturing moths at bait stations and netting free-flying adults. In that eight-year search for P. aweme, they added 59 new specimens of the Aweme borer to the list of discoveries. Johnson was delighted, but not surprised, given the number of rare species often harbored by peatland fens.

“Peatlands are highly underrated ecosystems,” Johnson told me when I joined him in the field looking for the same moth and other rarities in a fen in western Canada. “Like many scientists from other disciplines, entomologists didn’t think to look elsewhere because a lot of them didn’t believe that moths and butterflies, as well many birds and animals, could be peatland specialists.”

Read the whole article here.

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