In the Netherlands, fens that are fed by polluted river water are often eutrophic, whereas fens fed by calcium-rich groundwater often are mesotrophic. Differences in trophic status can not always be attributed to differences in the nutrient load of the water. In this paper we try to determine if the inflow of river water in fens, in fact, accelerates the soil nutrient release, thereby creating more eutrophic conditions (‘internal eutrophication’). For this purpose, we compared nutrient release rates (N, P and K) in soil cores from Sphagnum peat and Carex peat saturated with different media, that were artificially created to mimic the three basic water sources: polluted river water, unpolluted calcium-rich groundwater and rainwater. In addition, we studied the effect of temperature and water level on nutrient release rates. The experiments proved that Sphagnum peat released much more P and ammonium than Carex peat. The strong site effect proved consistent throughout the water chemistry treatments, which indicates that soil quality may be the most important agent determining nutrient release rates. Nevertheless, it was established that water chemistry and water level are of significant influence on nutrient release rates in peat soils. In particular, river water stimulated P release by the peat, most notably in the Sphagnum peat. P-release in both soils was only minor when the soils were incubated in clean Ca-rich groundwater. It is suggested that P release is strongly associated with soil chemical processes, and that high P release rates after incubation in river water are due to the high sulphate content of the water. The net release from the soil of ammonium, potassium and phosphate increased with increasing temperature. A freezing treatment significantly increased nutrient availability. The results of the experiments are examined in the context of hydrologic management strategies for the conservation of fens in agricultural landscapes.
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