Articles | Volume 13, issue 10
12 Oct 2009
 | 12 Oct 2009

Local and regional impact of anthropogenic drainage on fen contiguity

A. H. van Loon, P. P. Schot, M. F. P. Bierkens, J. Griffioen, and M. J. Wassen

Abstract. Knowledge of the hydrological mechanisms behind habitat fragmentation of fen plant communities in intensively managed regions like The Netherlands is essential to improve currently utilized fen restoration and conservation strategies. In this study, we analysed the local and regional impact of anthropogenic drainage on the groundwater supply of fens. For this purpose, we developed fine-scale groundwater flow models and collected empirical data to analyse (1) the differences in groundwater supply between an anthropogenically drained fen and a poorly drained fen in The Netherlands, and (2) the local and regional effects of the elimination of drainage ditches on the groundwater supply of fens. Our results consistently indicated the presence of recently infiltrated precipitation on top of upwelling groundwater across the anthropogenically drained fen, and a mixing gradient of recently infiltrated precipitation and upwelling groundwater across the poorly drained fen. Furthermore, our results showed that the elimination of drainage ditches from the anthropogenically drained fen increased the area and the flux of groundwater supply of both the anthropogenically drained fen and the poorly drained fen. We conclude that anthropogenic drainage not only causes a lowering of groundwater tables, but also (1) enhances the infiltration of local precipitation across fens while simultaneously preventing upwelling groundwater from entering the fen root zone, and (2) reduces the groundwater supply of adjacent fens by intercepting groundwater that is potentially directed to downstream regions. These insights support the need to reconsider the current priorities in hydrological fen restoration strategies.