Fire History and Long-Term Carbon Accumulation in Hemi-boreal Peatlands

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


Fire can play an important role in peatlands by modifying plant communities and carbon (C) stocks. However, baseline disturbance data on peatland fire history are lacking in the hemi-boreal region. We sampled 29 peatlands in northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota and used peat core records, radiocarbon dating, and infrared spectrometry to identify and date past fire events in 4 major hemi-boreal peatland ecotypes including open poor fens, treed poor fens, forested poor fens, and forested rich fens. In this region all types of poor fens had widely variable fire frequencies between sites. The poor fens experienced 2.1 fires per thousand years, or once every 476 years, on average, while the rich fens experienced almost no fire. Overall C stocks ranged from 10.1 to 263.3 kg C m−2 with a mean of 94.6 and median of 90.5 kg C m−2. The long-term apparent rate of carbon accumulation (LARCA) varied between 10–45 g m−2y−1 with an average of 28 g m−2 y−1. We found a significant negative relationship between fire frequency and LARCA. Our research indicates that fire frequency is not consistent across peatland types and increases in fire frequency will likely diminish peat C stocks. These findings provide a historical context for management decisions concerning wildland fires and their consequences for ecosystem C storage in hemi-boreal peatlands.

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