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River ecosystem response to prescribed vegetation burning on blanket peatland

Brown, L.E., Johnston, K., Palmer, S.M., Aspray, K.L. and Holden, J. (2013) River ecosystem response to prescribed vegetation burning on blanket peatland. PLoS ONE, 8 (11). e81023.

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Catchment-scale land-use change is recognised as a major threat to aquatic biodiversity and ecosystem functioning globally. In the UK uplands rotational vegetation burning is practised widely to boost production of recreational game birds, and while some recent studies have suggested burning can alter river water quality there has been minimal attention paid to effects on aquatic biota. We studied ten rivers across the north of England between March 2010 and October 2011, five of which drained burned catchments and five from unburned catchments. There were significant effects of burning, season and their interaction on river macroinvertebrate communities, with rivers draining burned catchments having significantly lower taxonomic richness and Simpson's diversity. ANOSIM revealed a significant effect of burning on macroinvertebrate community composition, with typically reduced Ephemeroptera abundance and diversity and greater abundance of Chironomidae and Nemouridae. Grazer and collector-gatherer feeding groups were also significantly less abundant in rivers draining burned catchments. These biotic changes were associated with lower pH and higher Si, Mn, Fe and Al in burned systems. Vegetation burning on peatland therefore has effects beyond the terrestrial part of the system where the management intervention is being practiced. Similar responses of river macroinvertebrate communities have been observed in peatlands disturbed by forestry activity across northern Europe. Finally we found river ecosystem changes similar to those observed in studies of wild and prescribed forest fires across North America and South Africa, illustrating some potentially generic effects of fire on aquatic ecosystems.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Copyright: © 2013 Brown et al.
Notes: This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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