<i>Sphagnum</i> abundance and photosynthetic capacity show rapid short-term recovery following managed burning

<p><b><i>Background</i></b>: Prescribed burning in peatlands is controversial due to concerns over damage to their ecological functioning, particularly regarding their key genus <i>Sphagnum</i>. However, empirical evidence is scarce.</p> <p><b><i>Aims</i></b>: The aim of the article is to quantify <i>Sphagnum</i> recovery following prescribed burns.</p> <p><b><i>Methods</i></b>: We completed nine fires at a raised bog in Scotland, achieving a range of fire severities by simulating drought in some plots. We measured <i>Sphagnum</i> cover and chlorophyll fluorescence <i>F</i><sub>v</sub>/<i>F</i><sub>m</sub> ratio (an estimate of photosynthetic capacity) up to 36 months post-fire.</p> <p><b><i>Results</i></b>: Cover of dominant <i>Sphagnum capillifolium</i> was similar in unburnt and burnt plots, likely due to its high moisture content which prevented combustion. Burning decreased <i>S. capillifolium F</i><sub>v</sub>/<i>F</i><sub>m</sub> 5 months after fire from 0.67 in unburnt plots to 0.44 in low fire severity plots and 0.24 in higher fire severity (drought) plots. After 22 months, <i>F</i><sub>v</sub>/<i>F</i><sub>m</sub> in burnt plots showed a healthy photosynthetic capacity of 0.76 and no differences between severity treatments. Other <i>Sphagnum</i> species showed similar post-fire recovery though their low overall abundance precluded formal statistical analysis.</p> <p><b><i>Conclusions</i></b><i>: S. capillifolium</i> is resilient to low–moderate fire severities and the same may be true for a number of other species. This suggests that carefully applied managed burning can be compatible with the conservation of peatland ecosystem function.</p>