Nav: Home

Prescribed burning not as damaging as previously thought

December 03, 2018

New research by the University of Liverpool has found that prescribed burning, a controversial technique where fires are intentionally used to manage vegetation, is not as damaging to peat growth as previously thought if carried out on a sensible rotation, and can produce several positive outcomes.

In a study published in Nature Geoscience, scientists analysed data from a long-term ecological experiment at Moor House National Nature Reserve which contained areas of moorland that only been burned in 1954, or since 1954 had burned either every ten or every twenty years. These were compared with "control" areas unburned since the 1920s.

Analysis of changes in vegetation composition, led by Emeritus Professor Rob Marrs from the University's Department of Earth, Oceans & Ecological Sciences, found that the areas which hadn't been subjected to any prescribed burns were dominated by heather, and other low-level, peat-forming species, and contained less good peat-forming species such as Sphagnum mosses and cotton grasses.

New stratigraphical data collected on the rate of peat and carbon accumulation led by Professor Richard Chiverrell from the University's Department of Geography & Planning measured numerous peat profiles sampled from the different prescribed burn areas.

Professor Chiverrell said:" This is first time that stratigraphical techniques have been used within the structure of a designed experiment. Our data show only limited reduction of peat and carbon accumulation with increased burning treatments. Crucially, there was continued peat and carbon accumulation even in the areas that had undergone the regime of most frequent burning."

The researchers also modelled the effects of these experimental prescribed burning treatments on potential damage caused by severe wildfires, and predicted that prescribed burning on rotation in some areas would reduce fire fuel loads (the amount of flammable material available to be burned in a fire), protect against more severe ecosystem damage, allow better access for fighting wildfires and promote faster recovery post-wildfire.

Prescribed burning is a technique used throughout the world however its use, especially on peatlands in Britain, is contentious. It has been thought by many involved in peatland conservation that prescribed burning stops peat growth, reduces carbon capture, increases coloration in water and reduces the amount of peat-forming species especially Sphagnum mosses and cotton grass.

Emeritus Professor Rob Marrs said: "The research, which was truly interdisciplinary and combined several scientific approaches, centred on a long-term, replicated experiment at Moor House National Nature Reserve. As part of that experiment the moorland was subjected to four burning treatments to determine the change in composition of the main species. The value of long-term experiments is that they allow new hypotheses can be tested which were unforeseen at the start,

"Our study produced surprising results that are the opposite of what many conservationists had previously thought. It showed that the areas which had not been burnt since 1954 ended up with more heather and less peat forming species but the most frequently burned treatment had more of these species and did not stop carbon accumulation. We advise that prescribed burning be used in some areas within a moorland management plan to minimize fuel loads.

"This work is unique because it uses stratigraphical methods, usually used to measure change over millennia, to assess recent environmental changes within a relatively long-term manipulative field experiment."
-end-
The paper `Experimental evidence for sustained carbon sequestration in fire-managed, peat moorlands' is published on 3rd December 2018 in Nature Geoscience (doi: 10.1038/s41561-018-0266-6. or weblink: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41561-018-0266-6)

Notes to editors:

  1. The University of Liverpool is one of the UK's leading research institutions with an annual turnover of £523 million. It is a member of the Russell Group. Visit http://www.liv.ac.uk or follow us on twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/livuninews
  2. Moor House National Nature Reserve is run under the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology's Environmental Change Network (NERC's National Capability), and is included in the inventory of important experiments on the Ecological Continuity Trust's register.
  3. Calibration of the changes in lead concentrations to a time scale was performed by Emeritus Professor Peter Appleby and Dr Gayane Piliposyan from the University's Environmental Radioactivity Research Centre.
  4. The work was made possible by the Geotek Multi-Sensor Core Logging and Near Infrared Spectrometry facilities available within the University's Central Teaching Laboratories, alongside specialist Energy Dispersive X-ray Florescence (Spectro XEPOS ED-XRF) in the Environment Change laboratories.
  5. Postgraduate students on Masters Programmes (MSc in Climate and Environmental Change and MSc Environmental Science) in the University's School of Environmental Science contributed to the research.
  6. The work was part funded by a BioDiversa grant (NERC/DEFRA, NE/G002096/1) and the Heather Trust (whose small grant funded the radiometric measurements).


University of Liverpool

Related Peat Articles:

Lacustrine ecosystems needed 10 million years to recover after end-permian mass extinction
A research team led by Prof. WANG Bo from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NIGPAS) found that both lake and peat-forming forest ecosystems probably took as long as 10 million years to recover after the end-Permian mass extinction.
Atomic fingerprint identifies emission sources of uranium
Depending on whether uranium is released by the civil nuclear industry or as fallout from nuclear weapon tests, the ratio of the two anthropogenic, i.e. man-made, uranium isotopes 233U and 236U varies.
Preparing land for palm oil causes most climate damage
New research has found preparing land for palm oil plantations and the growth of young plants causes significantly more damage to the environment, emitting double the amount of greenhouse gases than mature plantations.
Helping plant nurseries reduce runoff
Researchers identify production strategies to help manage phosphorus.
Northern peatlands may contain twice as much carbon as previously thought
Northern peatlands may hold twice as much carbon as scientists previously suspected, according to a study published today in Nature Geoscience.
Arctic rivers provide fingerprint of carbon release from thawing permafrost
The feedback between a warming climate and accelerated release of carbon currently frozen into permafrost around the Arctic is one of the grand challenges in current climate research.
130,000 years of data show peatlands store carbon long-term
An international team of scientists has become the first to conduct a study of global peatland extent and carbon stocks through the last interglacial-glacial cycle 130,000 years ago to the present.
Prescribed burning not as damaging as previously thought
New research by the University of Liverpool has found that prescribed burning, a controversial technique where fires are intentionally used to manage vegetation, is not as damaging to peat growth as previously thought if carried out on a sensible rotation, and can produce several positive outcomes.
Salt: Mover and shaker in ancient Maya society
Salt is essential for life. As ancient civilizations evolved from hunters and gatherers to agrarian societies, it has not been clear how people acquired this mineral that is a biological necessity.
A biofuel for automated heat generation
Biomass is an obvious resource for energy generation with a lower environmental impact.
More Peat News and Peat Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Space
One of the most consistent questions we get at the show is from parents who want to know which episodes are kid-friendly and which aren't. So today, we're releasing a separate feed, Radiolab for Kids. To kick it off, we're rerunning an all-time favorite episode: Space. In the 60's, space exploration was an American obsession. This hour, we chart the path from romance to increasing cynicism. We begin with Ann Druyan, widow of Carl Sagan, with a story about the Voyager expedition, true love, and a golden record that travels through space. And astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson explains the Coepernican Principle, and just how insignificant we are. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.