The Peatland Ecology Research Group works in partnership with the Canadian peat industry since its inception through various Collaborative Research and Development grants (CRD) and the NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Peatland Management. Here is an overview of the current collaboration between the peat industry and PERG.
Since 2003, an Industrial Research Chair in Peatland Management aims to improve our knowledge of peatland restoration methods, to explore the rehabilitation of peatlands that cannot be restored, and to look into the cultivation of Sphagnum fibers. The chair, lead by Dr. Line Rochefort from Université Laval (Québec, Canada), complements the researches carried out by the Peatland Ecology Research Group (PERG). To date, work in partnership with the Canadian peat industry has developed innovative basic techniques for restoring mined peatlands and has elaborated on conservation strategies.
The Industrial Research Chair started its third term in 2013. It is associated for five years (2013-2018) to a NSERC Collaborative R&D Grant (CRD), entitled "Farm, restore and model: responsible management of peatlands for a sustainable Canadian horticultural peat industry". Researchers from the universities of Waterloo, Calgary and McGill join Line Rochefort to experience new facets of peatland management, monitoring of restored sites and Sphagnum culture.
The restoration of peatland ecosystems is a lengthy process. The success of restoration is evaluated by assessing the long-term evolution of plant communities and the return of other ecosystem functions (e.g. hydrology, carbone cycle, productivity, biogeochemistry, etc.). The Bois-des-Bel peatland, an 11 hectares (ha) site which was harvested, abandoned for 20 years, and finally restored in 1999-2000, is our first outdoor laboratory. A second large scale experimental site has been established in 2009 during the second term of the industrial research chair. This is the fen of Bic-Saint-Fabien, which is also located in the region of the south shore of the St. Lawrence River.
Monitoring of other large-scale restored sites and satellite imagery also allow us to follow the restoration process. Additionally, new restoration techniques are developed to deal with a variety of conditions encountered in peatland restoration (e.g. laggs and marshes).
However, some sites have been too severely disturbed by peat mining to be restored to a peat accumulating ecosystem, the ultimate goal of peatland restoration. Methods of rehabilitation of abandoned sites have been developed during the first two terms of the Chair (2003-2008 and 2008-2013), including berry production and tree plantations. These two alternatives will improve the economic and aesthetic values of these areas.
Another aspect of the Industrial Research Chair and the CRD grant focuses on the development of the culture of Sphagnum mosses to produce the fiber used in growing media, a resource that we want renewable within a fairly short time to allow commercial use.