Fine-scale horizontal and vertical micro-distribution patterns of testate amoebae along a narrow Fen/Bog gradient.
The ecology of peatland testate amoebae is well studied along broad gradient from very wet (pool) to dry (hummock) micro-sites where testate amoebae are often found to respond primarily to the depth to water table (DWT). Much less is known on their responses to finer-scale gradients, and nothing is known of their possible response to phenolic compounds, which play a key role in carbon storage in peatlands. We studied the vertical (0-3, 3-6, and 6-9 cm sampling depths) micro-distribution patterns of testate amoebae in the same microhabitat (Sphagnum fallax lawn) along a narrow ecological gradient between a poor fen with an almost flat and homogeneous Sphagnum carpet (fen) and a "young bog" (bog) with more marked micro-topography and mosaic of poor fen and bog vegetation. We analyzed the relationships between the testate amoeba data and three sets of variables (1) "chemical" (pH, Eh potential, and conductivity), (2) "physical" (water temperature, altitude, i.e., Sphagnum mat micro-topography, and DWT), and (3) phenolic compounds in/from Sphagnum (water-soluble and primarily bound phenolics) as well as the habitat (fen/bog) and the sampling depth. Testate amoeba Shannon H diversity, equitability J of communities, and total density peaked in lower parts of Sphagnum, but the patterns differed between the fen and bog micro-sites. Redundancy analyses revealed that testate amoeba communities differed significantly in relation to Eh, conductivity, water temperature, altitude, water-soluble phenolics, habitat, and sampling depth, but not to DWT, pH, or primarily bound phenolics. The sensitivity of testate amoebae to weak environmental gradients makes them particularly good integrators of micro-environmental variations and has implications for their use in paleoecology and environmental monitoring. The correlation between testate amoeba communities and the concentration of water-soluble phenolic suggests direct (e.g., physiological) and/or indirect (e.g., through impact on prey organisms) effects on testate amoebae, which requires further research.