The carbon dioxide (CO.sub.2) exchange of five different peatland systems across Europe with a wide gradient in land use intensity, water table depth, soil fertility and climate was simulated with the process oriented CoupModel. The aim of the study was to find out whether CO.sub.2 fluxes, measured at different sites, can be explained by common processes and parameters or to what extend a site specific configuration is needed. The model was calibrated to fit measured CO.sub.2 fluxes, soil temperature, snow depth and leaf area index (LAI) and resulting differences in model parameters were analyzed. Finding site independent model parameters would mean that differences in the measured fluxes could be explained solely by model input data: water table, meteorological data, management and soil inventory data. Seasonal variability in the major fluxes was well captured, when a site independent configuration was utilized for most of the parameters. Parameters that differed between sites included the rate of soil organic decomposition, photosynthetic efficiency, and regulation of the mobile carbon (C) pool from senescence to shooting in the next year. The largest difference between sites was the rate coefficient for heterotrophic respiration. Setting it to a common value would lead to underestimation of mean total respiration by a factor of 2.8 up to an overestimation by a factor of 4. Despite testing a wide range of different responses to soil water and temperature, rate coefficients for heterotrophic respiration were consistently the lowest on formerly drained sites and the highest on the managed sites. Substrate decomposability, pH and vegetation characteristics are possible explanations for the differences in decomposition rates. Specific parameter values for the timing of plant shooting and senescence, the photosynthesis response to temperature, litter fall and plant respiration rates, leaf morphology and allocation fractions of new assimilates, were not needed, even though the gradient in site latitude ranged from 48° N (southern Germany) to 68° N (northern Finland) differed largely in their vegetation. This was also true for common parameters defining the moisture and temperature response for decomposition, leading to the conclusion that a site specific interpretation of these processes is not necessary. In contrast, the rate of soil organic decomposition, photosynthetic efficiency, and the regulation of the mobile carbon pool need to be estimated from available information on specific soil conditions, vegetation and management of the ecosystems, to be able to describe CO.sub.2 fluxes under different conditions.