Holocene environmental change and development of the nutrient budget of histosols in North Iceland

Susanne Claudia Möckel*, Egill Erlendsson, Guðrún Gísladóttir

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Backround and aims: Little is known about vegetation changes in Icelandic peatlands in the context of soil chemical properties. By connecting soil chemical and physical characteristics with palaeobotanical data we examined interactions between climate, histosols, vegetation and land use during the Holocene. Methods: Exchangeable base cations, cation exchange capacity (CEC), base saturation (BS), decomposition rates, using carbon:nitrogen ratio (C:N) and von Post humification, and soil physical properties were determined. Vegetation development was reconstructed based on pollen analysis. The impact of geographic location was examined by comparing results from three sloping fens (coastal, inland and highland fringe). Results: Minerogenic content was highest in the proximity of the active volcanic zone, reflected in higher C:N and nutrient content in the histosol profiles of the fens inland and at the highland fringe. The coastal site revealed exceptionally high BS. C:N was either stable throughout the profile or increased with depth. Plant species richness, and evenness based on pollen data, and pollen concentrations were greatest at the site with lowest nutrient levels. Conclusions: Minerogenic content facilitates the ability of histosols to bind nutrients. Plant growth is optimised at the sites with lower fertility levels. C:N alone is not a reliable indicator of decomposition rates, but depends on the quality of the organic parent material. Environmental conditions driven by climate changes caused alterations in vegetation and soil properties before the human settlement of Iceland (c. AD 870), but overall the histosols showed resilience towards severe degradation. After the settlement, the histosols struggled to buffer the impact caused by destruction of vegetation and increased erosion. This study increases our understanding of environmental and anthropogenic determinants of soil- and vegetation development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)437-457
Number of pages21
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge funding from The University of Iceland Research Fund, Rannís (grant no. 141842-053) and Orkurannsóknarsjóður Landsvirkjunar Research Fund. We thank Ian Thomas for pre-submission review and Julia Brenner and Scott Riddell for English language proofreading. Two anonymous reviewers are thanked for critical assessment of the manuscript, which led to substantial improvements. Utra Mankasingh contributed greatly to this project through help in the laboratory and many subject-specific discussions. Ólafur Eggertsson, Scott Riddell and Sigrún Dögg Eddudóttir assisted with field work.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Springer International Publishing AG Switzerland.

Other keywords

  • Decomposition
  • Histosol
  • Minerogenic content
  • Nutrient state
  • Soil resilience
  • Vegetation changes


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