, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 393-409
Date: 05 Nov 2008

Loss of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in Indo-Malayan peat swamp forests

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Abstract

The tropical peat swamp forests of Indonesia and Malaysia are unusual ecosystems that are rich in endemic species of flora, fauna and microbes despite their extreme acidic, anaerobic, nutrient poor conditions. They are an important refuge for many endangered species including orang utans. Ecosystem functioning is unusual: microbial decomposition is inhibited because the leaves are sclerophyllous and toxic to deter herbivory in the nutrient poor environment, yet bacteria are abundant and active in the surface layers of the peat, where they respire DOC leached from newly fallen leaves. The bacteria are subsequently consumed by aquatic invertebrates that are eaten by fish, and bacterially respired CO2 is assimilated by algae, so bacteria are thus vital to carbon and nutrient cycling. Peat swamp forests are highly sensitive to the impacts of logging, drainage and fire, due to the interdependence of the vegetation with the peat substrate, which relies on the maintenance of adequate water, canopy cover and leaf litter inputs. Even minor disturbances can increase the likelihood of fire, which is the major cause of CO2 emissions from regional peat swamp forests and which impact ecosystems worldwide by contributing to climate change. Indo-Malayan peat swamps affect the hydrology of surrounding ecosystems due to their large water storage capacity which slows the passage of floodwaters in wet seasons and maintains stream base flows during dry seasons. These forests are of global importance yet they are inadequately protected and vanishing rapidly, particularly due to agricultural conversion to oil palm, logging, drainage and annual fires.