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Are secondary forests second-rate? Comparing peatland greenhouse gas emissions, chemical and microbial community properties between primary and secondary forests in Peninsular Malaysia

Dhandapani, Selvakumar, Ritz, Karl, Evers, Stephanie, Yule, Catherine M., Sjögersten, Sofie
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.655 pp. 220-231
Gram-negative bacteria, Gram-positive bacteria, anthropogenic activities, antimicrobial properties, carbon dioxide, carbon sinks, community structure, copper, drainage, dry season, ecosystems, forest types, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, habitats, land use change, leaching, mass spectrometry, methane, methane production, microbial communities, nutrient content, peat, peatlands, phenotype, phospholipid fatty acids, seasonal variation, secondary forests, sodium, soil microorganisms, swamps, Malaysia
Tropical peatlands are globally important ecosystems with high C storage and are endangered by anthropogenic disturbances. Microbes in peatlands play an important role in sustaining the functions of peatlands as a C sink, yet their characteristics in these habitats are poorly understood. This research aimed to elucidate the responses of these complex ecosystems to disturbance by exploring greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, nutrient contents, soil microbial communities and the functional interactions between these components in a primary and secondary peat swamp forest in Peninsular Malaysia. GHG measurements using closed chambers, and peat sampling were carried out in both wet and dry seasons. Microbial community phenotypes and nutrient content were determined using phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) and inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) analyses respectively. CO2 emissions in the secondary peat swamp forest were > 50% higher than in the primary forest. CH4 emission rates were ca. 2 mg m−2 h−1 in the primary forest but the secondary forest was a CH4 sink, showing no seasonal variations in GHG emissions. Almost all the nutrient concentrations were significantly lower in the secondary forest, postulated to be due to nutrient leaching via drainage and higher rates of decomposition. Cu and Mo concentrations were negatively correlated with CO2 and CH4 emissions respectively. Microbial community structure was overwhelmingly dominated by bacteria in both forest types, however it was highly sensitive to land-use change and season. Gram-positive and Gram-negative relative abundance were positively correlated with CO2 and CH4 emissions respectively. Drainage related disturbances increased CO2 emissions, by reducing the nutrient content including some with known antimicrobial properties (Cu & Na) and by favouring Gram-positive bacteria over Gram-negative bacteria. These results suggest that the biogeochemistry of secondary peat swamp forest is fundamentally different from that of primary peat swamp forest, and these differences have significant functional impacts on their respective environments.