Abstract

The calcareous substrate of spring-fed fens makes them unique islands of biodiversity, hosting endangered, vulnerable, and protected vascular plants. Hence, spring-fed fens ecosystems require special conservation attention because many of them are destroyed (e.g. drained, forested) and it is extremely difficult or even impossible to restore the unique hydrogeological and geochemical conditions enabling their function. The long-term perspective of paleoecological studies allows indication of former wetland ecosystem states and provides understanding of their development over millennia. To examine the late Holocene dynamics of a calcareous spring-fed fen (Raganu Mire) ecosystem on the Baltic Sea coast (Latvia) in relation to environmental changes, substrate and human activity, we have undertaken high-resolution analyses of plant macrofossils, pollen, mollusc, stable carbon (δ13C) and oxygen (δ18O) isotopes combined with radiocarbon dating (AMS) in three coring locations. Our study revealed that peat deposits began accumulating ca. 7000 cal. yr BP and calcareous deposits (tufa) from 1450 cal. yr BP, coinciding with regional hydrological changes. Several fire events occurred between 4000 and 1600 cal. yr BP, which appeared to have had a limited effect on local vegetation. The most significant changes in the forest and peatland ecosystems were at 3200 cal. yr BP associated with a dry climate stage and high fire activity, and then between 1400 and 500 cal. yr BP potentially associated with temperature changes during the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA) and Little Ice Age. Hydrological disturbances in the peatland catchment from 1400 cal. yr BP were most likely strengthened by human activity (deforestation) in this region. The relationship between the development of this peatland and changes in its catchment area, such as land cover changes or fluctuations in groundwater levels, suggest that protection and restoration of spring-fed fen ecosystems should also include the surrounding catchment. The presence of calcareous sediments, as well as appropriate temperature and local hydrological conditions appear to be the most crucial factors controlling Cladium marisus populations in our site - currently at the eastern limit of its distribution in Europe.

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