Oil palm ‘slash-and-burn’ practice increases post-fire greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient concentrations in burnt regions of an agricultural tropical peatland

Fire is one of the major issues facing Southeast Asian peatlands causing socio-economic, human health and climate crises. Many of these fires in the region are associated with land clearing or management practices for oil palm plantations. Here we study the direct post-fire impacts of slash-and-burn oil palm agriculture on greenhouse gas emissions, peat physico-chemical properties and nutrient concentrations. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were measured using Los Gatos ultraportable greenhouse gas analyser one month after a fire in dry season and five months after the fire event, in wet season. Surface soil samples were collected from each individual GHG measurement points, along with 50 cm cores from both burnt and non-burnt control areas for lab analyses. As an immediate post-fire impact, carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) emissions, pH, electrical conductivity, and all macronutrient concentrations except nitrogen (N) were increased multi-fold, while the redox potential, carbon (C) and N content were greatly reduced in the burnt region. While some of the properties such as CO2 emissions, and electrical conductivity reverted to normal after five months, other properties such as CH4 emissions, pH and nutrient concentrations remained high in the burnt region. This study also found very high loss of surface peat C content in the burnt region post fire, which is irreversible. The results also show that surface peat layers up to 20 cm depth were affected the most by slash-and-burn activity in oil palm agriculture, however the intensity of fire can vary widely between different oil palm management and needs further research to fully understand the long term and regional impacts of such slash-and-burn activity in tropical peatlands.
  • Authors: Dhandapani, S., Evers, S.
  • Author Affiliation: Liverpool John Moores University, Tropical Catchment Research Initiative Malaysia, University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus
  • Subjects: tropics, peat, fires, oil palms, carbon dioxide, methane, land use change, burning, peatlands
  • Publication type: Journal Article
  • Source: Science of The Total Environment 742: 140648
  • Year: 2020
  • DOI:
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