Fens

Source: EPA
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Introduction

caption Fens, like bogs, are peatlands, but because they are fed by groundwater they are not so acidic as bogs.

Fens, are peat-forming wetlands that receive nutrients from sources other than precipitation: usually from upslope sources through drainage from surrounding mineral soils and from groundwater movement. Fens differ from bogs because they are less acidic and have higher nutrient levels. They are therefore able to support a much more diverse plant and animal community. These systems are often covered by grasses, sedges, rushes, and wildflowers. Some fens are characterized by parallel ridges of vegetation separated by less productive hollows. The ridges of these patterned fens form perpendicular to the downslope direction of water movement. Over time, peat may build up and separate the fen from its groundwater supply. When this happens, the fen receives fewer nutrients and may become a bog.

caption Showy ladyslipper, Cypripedium reginae, is an example of a unique plant that thrives in fens.

Like bogs, fens are mostly a northern hemisphere phenomenon—occurring in the northeastern United States, the Great Lakes region, the Rocky Mountains, and much of Canada—and are generally associated with low temperatures and short growing seasons, where ample precipitation and high humidity cause excessive moisture to accumulate.

Functions & Values

Fens, like bogs, provide important benefits in a watershed, including preventing or reducing the risk of floods, improving water quality, and providing habitat for unique plant and animal communities.

Status

caption Fens may be dominated by woody or herbaceous vegetation. In this photograph, trees are invading an herbaceous fen.

Like most peatlands, fens experienced a decline in acreage at a rate of about eight percent from 1950 to 1970, mostly from mining and draining for cropland, fuel, and fertilizer. Because of the large historical loss of this ecosystem type, remaining fens are that much more rare, and it is crucial to protect them. It is important to recognize that while mining and draining these ecosystems provide resources for people, up to 10,000 years are required to form a fen naturally.

Further reading

Fens, Biological Sciences, University of Paisley.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the Environmental Protection Agency. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the Environmental Protection Agency should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.

Glossary

Citation

(2007). Fens. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/152751

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