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Deforested and drained tropical peatland sites show poorer peat substrate quality and lower microbial biomass and activity than unmanaged swamp forest

Reference: Soil Biology and Biochemistry
Authors: Könönen, M., Jauhiainen, J., Straková, P., Heinonsalo, J., Laiho, R., Kusin, K., Limin, S., Vasander, H.
Year: 2018

Abstract: Swamp forests on deep tropical peatlands have undergone extensive deforestation and draining for agriculture and plantations, consequently becoming globally significant carbon (C) sources. To study the effects of land-use change on peat as a biological environment, which directly affects decomposition dynamics and greenhouse gas emissions, we sampled peat from four common land-use types representing different management intensities in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. The near-pristine swamp forest was used to describe unmanaged conditions, and the three other sites in order of increasing management intensity were reforested; degraded; and agricultural. We examined peat substrate quality (total C & nitrogen (N), dissolved organic C (DOC) and N (DON)), organic matter quality characterized by infrared spectroscopy, and microbial biomass and extracellular enzyme activity, to describe both biotic and abiotic conditions in peat. We found that the peat at altered sites was poorer in quality, i.e. decomposability, as demonstrated by the higher intensity of aromatic and aliphatic compounds, and lower intensity of polysaccharides, and concentration of total N, DOC, and DON compared to the peat in the swamp forest. The observed differences in peat properties can be linked to changes in litter input and decomposition conditions altered after deforestation and draining, as well as increased leaching and fires. The quality of the peat substrate was directly related to its biotic properties, with altered sites generally having lower microbial biomass and enzyme activity. However, irrespective of management intensity or substrate quality, enzyme activity was limited primarily to the first 0–3 cm of the peat profile. Some differences between wet and dry seasons were observed in enzyme activity especially in swamp forest, where the most measured enzyme activities were higher in dry season. Reforestation 6 years before our measurements had not yet restored enzyme activity in the peat to the level of the swamp forest, although the topmost peat characteristics in the reforested site already resembled those in the swamp forest. This is likely contributed by the limited capacity of the young tree stand to produce litter to support peat formation and restore the quality and structure of the peat, and the chemical weed control performed at the site. Therefore, we conclude that intensive land management, including deforestation and draining, leads to the surface peat becoming poorer biological environment, and it may take long time to restore the peat properties.

Key words: Decomposability; Land-use; Microbial biomass; Enzyme activity; Peat properties; Tropical peat
Link 1: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.soilbio.2018.04.028
Link 2: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0038071718301482
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