Impacts of fire and prospects for recovery in a tropical peat forest ecosystem

Mark E. Harrison, Nicolas J. Deere, Muhammad Ali Imron, Darmae Nasir, Adul, Hastin Ambar Asti, Joana Aragay Soler, Nicholas C. Boyd, Susan M. Cheyne, Sarah A. Collins, Laura J. D'Arcy, Wendy M. Erb, Hannah Green, William Healy, Hendri, Brendan Holly, Peter R. Houlihan, Simon J. Husson, Iwan, Karen A. JeffersIci P. Kulu, Kitso Kusin, Nicholas C. Marchant, Helen C. Morrogh-Bernard, Susan E. Page, Ari Purwanto, Bernat Ripoll Capilla, Oscar Rodriguez de Rivera Ortega, Santiano, Katie L. Spencer, Jito Sugardjito, Jatna Supriatna, Sara A. Thornton, F. J. Frank van Veen, Yulintine, Matthew J. Struebig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Uncontrolled fires place considerable burdens on forest ecosystems, compromising our ability to meet conservation and restoration goals. A poor understanding of the impacts of fire on ecosystems and their biodiversity exacerbates this challenge, particularly in tropical regions where few studies have applied consistent analytical techniques to examine a broad range of ecological impacts over multiyear time frames. We compiled 16 y of data on ecosystem properties (17 variables) and biodiversity (21 variables) from a tropical peatland in Indonesia to assess fire impacts and infer the potential for recovery. Burned forest experienced altered structural and microclimatic conditions, resulting in a proliferation of nonforest vegetation and erosion of forest ecosystem properties and biodiversity. Compared to unburned forest, habitat structure, tree density, and canopy cover deteriorated by 58 to 98%, while declines in species diversity and abundance were most pronounced for trees, damselflies, and butterflies, particularly for forest specialist species. Tracking ecosystem property and biodiversity datasets over time revealed most to be sensitive to recurrent high-intensity fires within the wider landscape. These megafires immediately compromised water quality and tree reproductive phenology, crashing commercially valuable fish populations within 3 mo and driving a gradual decline in threatened vertebrates over 9 mo. Burned forest remained structurally compromised long after a burn event, but vegetation showed some signs of recovery over a 12-y period. Our findings demonstrate that, if left uncontrolled, fire may be a pervasive threat to the ecological functioning of tropical forests, underscoring the importance of fire prevention and long-term restoration efforts, as exemplified in Indonesia.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2307216121
Pages (from-to)e2307216121
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume121
Issue number17
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 23 Apr 2024

Keywords

  • biodiversity
  • fire regime
  • megafire
  • multi-taxon
  • restoration

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