Fire accelerates assimilation and transfer of photosynthetic carbon from plants to soil microbes in a northern peatland

Ward, Susan E.; Ostle, Nick J.; Oakley, Simon; Quirk, Helen; Stott, Andrew; Henrys, Peter A.; Scott, W. Andrew; Bargett, Richard D.. 2012 Fire accelerates assimilation and transfer of photosynthetic carbon from plants to soil microbes in a northern peatland. Ecosystems, 15 (8). 1245-1257.

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Abstract: Northern peatlands are recognized as globally important stores of terrestrial carbon (C), yet we have limited understanding of how global changes, including land use, affect C cycling processes in these ecosystems. Making use of a long-term (> 50 year old) peatland land management experiment in the UK, we investigated, using a (CO2)-C-13 pulse chase approach, how managed burning and grazing influenced the short-term uptake and cycling of C through the plant-soil system. We found that burning affected the composition and growth stage of the plant community, by substantially reducing the abundance of mature ericoid dwarf-shrubs. Burning also affected the structure of the soil microbial community, measured using phospholipid fatty acid analysis, by reducing fungal biomass. There was no difference in net ecosystem exchange of CO2, but burning was associated with an increase in photosynthetic uptake of (CO2)-C-13 and increased transfer of C-13 to the soil microbial community relative to unburned areas. In contrast, grazing had no detectable effects on any measured C cycling process. Our study provides new insight into how changes in vegetation and soil microbial communities arising from managed burning affect peatland C cycling processes, by enhancing the uptake of photosynthetic C and the transfer of C belowground, whilst maintaining net ecosystem exchange of CO2 at pre-burn levels.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Topics & Objectives 2009 - 2012 > EHFI
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: CEH Fellows
ISSN: 1432-9840
Additional Keywords: peatland, burning, carbon cycle, stable isotope pulse labelling, 13C, respiration, photosynthesis, plant functional types, PLFA
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 15 Aug 2013 14:07 +0 (UTC)

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