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

Harrison, Mark E., Deere, Nicolas J., Imron, Muhammed Ali, Nasir, Darmae, Adul, Asti, Hastin Ambar, Soler, Joana Aragay, Boyd, Nicholas C., Cheyne, Susan M., Collins, Sarah A., and others. (2024) Impacts of fire and prospects for recovery in a tropical peat forest ecosystem. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 121 (17). Article Number e230721612. ISSN 0027-8424. (doi:10.1073/pnas.2307216121) (KAR id:104989)

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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 multi year timeframes. We compiled 16 years 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 non-forest vegetation and erosion of forest ecosystem properties and biodiversity. Compared to unburned forest, habitat structure, tree density, and canopy cover deteriorated by 58-98%, while declines in species and populations 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 months and driving a gradual decline in threatened vertebrates over 9 months. Burned forest remained structurally compromised long after a burn event, but vegetation showed some signs of recovery over a 12-year 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.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1073/pnas.2307216121
Projects: The empty forest syndrome
Uncontrolled keywords: Biodiversity; fire regime; megafire; multi-taxon; restoration
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH75 Conservation (Biology)
Q Science > QL Zoology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation > DICE (Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology)
Funders: Leverhulme Trust (
Depositing User: Nicolas Deere
Date Deposited: 14 Feb 2024 10:57 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Apr 2024 12:47 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Deere, Nicolas J..

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Rodríguez De Rivera, Óscar.

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Spencer, Katie.

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Struebig, Matthew J..

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