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Post-wildfire peatland recovery: a case study from Belgium

Book Contribution - Chapter

Widespread drainage and prolonged drought events lead to a higher wildfire frequency in peatlands. To date, it is not well known how wildfires affect peatland biogeochemistry and community assembly of plants and soil microbes. In 2020, a wildfire burned ca. 30 hectares of peatland in nature reserve “De Liereman” in the Campine region of Belgium. In response, we established permanent quadrats (PQs) using a twin-plot design, in which we paired burned quadrats with adjacent intact quadrats. We monitored edaphic properties as well as plant and soil microbial community assembly for the duration of three consecutive growing seasons to investigate how the peatland, and its biotic communities, recovers after the wildfire. We found that the wildfire caused a sudden spike in nutrient availability, but this effect diminished over time. Microbial communities at burned sites were distinct from communities at intact sites, particularly for fungi. Most of the vegetation recovered relatively quickly, although Molinia caerulea had a head start while peat mosses (Sphagnum spec.) were lagging behind. The relatively rapid overall recovery may be co-explained by the fact that, in this particular case, the fire did not penetrate deep into the peat soil. Prolonged research is needed to investigate how long it takes to reach complete ecosystem recovery.
Book: Post-wildfire peatland recovery: a case study from Belgium
Publication year:2023