Linking groundwater level fluctuations and water quality to vegetation and habitat condition in blanket bog ecosystems in Ireland

  • Sorcha Cahill

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Understanding peatland hydrology and its interaction with the ecosystem as a whole has been relatively neglected until recent years. In the past, research has been more focused on raised bogs and blanket bogs have been somewhat neglected. This research aims to help bridge some gaps in knowledge related to blanket bog ecohydrology and its influence on ecosystem services to water, through flow and water quality.

This project investigated the link between hydrology and ecology in blanket bog environments on the island of Ireland to help determine baseline ecohydrological conditions on intact sites where data is lacking. Ireland acts as an important blanket bog reserve in the EU. The Habitats and Water Framework Directives afford protection to these ecosystems for the value that they provide to society and are important legal elements driving this research.

Findings demonstrate ecohydrological feedback mechanisms control the structure and functioning of peatlands. Seasonal water table dynamics were revealed to be a major factor explaining vegetation patterns. Blanket bog vegetation was linked to hydrological regimes (water table fluctuations). Total organic carbon (TOC) results suggesting flushing of organic carbon from the peat with precipitation after prolonged drought. Effects of deterioration in water quality and flow regimes are apparent with anthropogenic alteration of peatlands. Vegetation mapping demonstrated that blanket bog ecosystems consist of a mosaic of different vegetation communities.

Revised mapping methods and condition assessments have potential to estimate the value ecosystems services to water in areas lacking detailed ecohydrological data by assessing hydrological regimes and vegetation composition and structure. This allowed the development of a ‘tool’ that can be used to indicate both vegetation condition and hydrological regime, which could be used for future blanket bog assessment. Results from this investigation may be used to inform future management of blanket bog environments across Ireland and possibly internationally.
Date of AwardDec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsEnvironmental Protection Agency
SupervisorDebra Phillips (Supervisor) & Rory Doherty (Supervisor)


  • Blanket bog
  • ecohydrology
  • hydrology
  • ecology
  • water quality

Cite this