Peatland Restoration: Impacts on Soil Health and Microbial Communities

Peatlands, often described as nature's 'carbon banks', are critical ecosystems in our fight against climate change and for the preservation of our environment. These remarkable landscapes store an immense amount of carbon, around 450 to 550 gigatonnes globally, which accounts for around 30% of the world's soil carbon. If peatlands are damaged by drainage or degradation, this stored carbon can be released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2), contributing to global warming.

Research into peat rewetting is therefore providing valuable insights into the potential for restoring the health and vitality of these important ecosystems in the fight against climate change.

A collaborative effort for Peatland Preservation

The important role of peatlands has led to an exciting collaboration between Bioclear earth, as a partner in LANDMARC, and the Blauwzaam Foundation. Blauwzaam's primary mission is to bring together companies, research institutions and governments to promote sustainable entrepreneurship. This fits perfectly with LANDMARC's commitment to innovative land use to combat climate change. In this project we are focusing on the influence of peatland rewetting on soil microbiology.

Why is it important to look at microbial changes in rewetted peatland?

Our research has a straightforward goal: we're trying to find out how soil microorganisms affect greenhouse gas production and soil health in rewetted peatlands. Basically, we want to understand whether rewetting can help certain bacteria to grow and reduce the gases that contribute to climate change. We're also interested in how rewetting might affect the microorganisms that are important for soil health.

To kick off our research, we collected soil samples from three different rewetted sites selected by Blauwzaam. These sites are located on different farms, and each farm has its own unique characteristics. Two of them, Farms A and B, are closer to the sea and have wetter conditions, while the third, Farm C, is further from the sea and has clayey soil.

Changes in microbial communities

Each of the farms we studied had distinct microbial communities influenced by their proximity to the sea. Interestingly, the rewetting process resulted in a decrease in microbial diversity, mainly due to changes in soil oxygen levels. As a result, certain anaerobic microorganisms thrived, while others were inhibited.

Improving soil health through rewetting

While we're cautious about drawing definitive conclusions due to the unique characteristics of the research sites, some key findings have emerged. The rewetted sites have shown an increase in plant growth promoting bacteria, particularly Bacillus species. These microorganisms are known to improve soil fertility and nutrient cycling. They are essential for overall soil health and therefore plant growth.

Nitrogen, Carbon, and the Path Forward

At Farm C, located farther from the sea, we found a higher abundance of nitrogen-fixing bacteria and fewer microbes engaged in the denitrification process. This could result in reduced nitrous oxide emissions in the rewetted area compared to the control. Initial findings on carbon-fixing microbes and methane emissions or uptake showed no significant differences with the control. However, further analysis at the gene level is planned to increase precision and deepen our understanding of these soil microbial processes and their implications.

A bright future for peatlands

Our collaboration has provided valuable insights into the complex world of peatland rewetting. While each farm has unique outcomes, the importance of plant growth promoting bacteria and their impact on peatland nitrogen cycling cannot be underestimated. With ongoing analysis, we will undoubtedly also deepen our understanding of carbon sequestration, all in the pursuit of sustainable peatland management.

In conclusion, it's not just about peatlands; it's about securing the future of our planet.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 869367.

If you want to know more about this project, please contact Eline Keuning or Afnan Suleiman.

Eline Keuning
Lead soil health
Afnan Suleiman
Soil microbiologist