Fire and tree species diversity in tropical peat swamp forests

Tropical peat swamp forests contain diverse plant communities that support many endangered flora and fauna species. These forests are increasingly threatened by disturbances such as drainage, logging, and subsequent fire, yet little is known about tree species recovery from these threats. Tree species richness and diversity were measured in peat swamp forests of Central Borneo regenerating naturally after fires from 139 chronosequence plots. Our findings indicated that two to three decades after fire, similar levels of richness and diversity to relatively undisturbed reference forest are reached within sites. However, when averaged across landscapes our modelling shows that fires of average frequency of 50 years, or even 100 years, can substantially suppress tree species richness and diversity. Thus, even rare fires can reduce the species richness and diversity of tropical peat swamp forests. Two groups of tree species drove the difference in richness and diversity between disturbed and reference forests: ‘decreasers’, occupying recently burnt forest and declining with fire exclusion, and ‘increasers’, that were only present in less disturbed forests and absent or rare in recently burnt forests. The decreasers were more common than the increasers. We conclude that peat swamp forests can recover adequately from fires through natural regeneration, and it is possible that artificial planting may speed up this process. Where possible, excluding fire from tropical peat forests will help to maintain the diversity of these threatened ecosystems and promote their recovery.
  • Authors: Volkova, L., Krisnawati, H., Qirom, M.A., Adinugroho, W.C., Imanuddin, R., Hutapea, F.J., McCarthy, M.A., Di Stefano, J., Weston, C.J.
  • Author Affiliation: University of Melbourne, National Research and Innovation Agency
  • Subjects: peat, swamps, fire, tree diversity, biodiversity, species richness
  • Publication type: Journal Article
  • Source: Forest Ecology and Management 529: 120704
  • Year: 2023
  • DOI:
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