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:

Biologists have explored how testate amoebae survive in peat fires
An International team from China University of Geosciences, University of York and Lomonosov Moscow State University have studied the impact of wildfire on testate amoebae -- one of the dominant microbial groups in peat bogs.
Peatlands, already dwindling, could face further losses
Tropical peatlands have been disappearing fast due to clear-cutting and drainage projects.
There's no one-size-fits-all solution to climate change
The world's forests are crucial to slowing climate change, but they're being destroyed to make room for farms, mines, and other economic ventures.
Scientists discover world's largest tropical peatland in remote Congo swamps
A vast peatland in the Congo Basin has been mapped for the first time, revealing it to be the largest in the tropics.
Study: Warming global temperatures may not affect carbon stored deep in northern peatlands
Deep stores of carbon in northern peatlands may be safe from rising temperatures, according to a team of researchers from several US-based institutions.
Peat bog reveals more than 1,000 years of Tanzanian history
Scientists at the University of York have charted more than 1,000 years of Tanzanian environmental history using sediments extracted from a peat bog.
Mulching plus remediation corrects contaminated lawns
A study compared the effectiveness of combining mulching with remediation for reseeding lawns damaged by diesel and hydraulic fluid spills.
From fire breaks to fire hazards
The peat bogs of the world, once waterlogged repositories of dead moss, are being converted into fuel-packed fire hazards that can burn for months and generate deadly smoke.
Root water transport measured with hydraulic conductance flow meter
Researchers used a hydraulic conductance flow meter to measure hydraulic conductance of container-grown herbaceous and semiwoody plants with soft conductive tissue.
New study shows desert mangroves are major source of carbon storage
Researchers found that short, stunted mangroves living along the coastal desert of Baja California store up to five times more carbon below ground than their lush, tropical counterparts.

Related Peat Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#530 Why Aren't We Dead Yet?
We only notice our immune systems when they aren't working properly, or when they're under attack. How does our immune system understand what bits of us are us, and what bits are invading germs and viruses? How different are human immune systems from the immune systems of other creatures? And is the immune system so often the target of sketchy medical advice? Those questions and more, this week in our conversation with author Idan Ben-Barak about his book "Why Aren't We Dead Yet?: The Survivor’s Guide to the Immune System".