Peatland degradation: From fire to restoration – southern African case studies

Authors:
Piet-Louis Grundling

Publication Date:
2019

Abstract/Summary:
Peatlands compose 50% of the world’s wetlands, host a third of terrestrial carbon, and 10% of fresh water resources. However, the occurrence, functioning, and value of peatlands in drier climates, such as southern Africa, is poorly understood and their conservation status unsure. During the recent extensive regional drought, peat fires were reported from the wetter east in the Kingdom of Swaziland (KoS) and coastal KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa (SA), and the drier west in North West Province (SA) with the latest fire reported in 2019 in the southern Western Cape Province (SA). Degraded peatlands turn from carbon sinks to sources. Peatland desiccation results from the draining of peat pores, oxidation of the peat, compaction, hydrophobicity, and eventual collapse of the accumulated peat due to impacts such as drainage, erosion, or water abstraction. Peatland restoration can be complex, and therefore expensive, with varying levels of success. Not only hydrology, geomorphology and vegetation dynamics need be considered, but also a suite of microbial communities and bio-chemical processes must to be in place. A peat fire is the (burning of the) last straw resulting in the total collapse of these sensitive ecosystems. Restoration of peatlands should therefore aim to address the impacts first that resulted in the desiccation (e.g. water abstraction upstream from the peatland or an erosion gully draining it). This study focuses on five fire-scarred peatlands in SA and KoS and the success of restoration efforts using various techniques.

Resource Type:
Audio/Video, Conference Presentation, SER2019

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program

Source:
Society for Ecological Restoration