Cut-over peatland regeneration assessment using organic matter and microbial indicators (bacteria and testate amoebae).
Cut-over peatlands cover large surfaces of high potential value for enhancing biodiversity and carbon sequestration if successfully restored. Unfortunately, evaluation of restoration success is not straightforward. We assessed the bioindicator value of organic matter (OM), testate amoebae (protozoa) and bacteria in peat from two regeneration stages and a reference site of a cut-over bog. Contrasting biochemical signatures of peat OM were observed along the regenerating profiles, allowing clear differentiation between the newly regenerated peat and the old peat. Where peat macrofossils were absent sugar biomarkers were used to infer peat botanical origin and OM alteration. Over the succession, the OM composition of the new peat differed. Peat from the more recent stage was dominated by Sphagnum-derived tissues and characterized by lower carbohydrate preservation and higher bacterial biomass than the advanced regeneration stage. Surface testate amoeba communities also changed from the recent to the advanced stages of regeneration, indicating a shift from wet and moderately acidic conditions to drier and more acidic conditions. Over this regeneration sequence (i) the biomass and average size of species declined but were higher at the unexploited site and (ii) species richness and diversity increased but density declined. 5. Synthesis and applications. Although secondary succession in the cut-over bog led to an ecosystem similar to that of the reference site in terms of surface vegetation, OM and testate amoebae continued to reflect disturbances associated with peat harvesting. Nevertheless, the described dynamics of both microbial and biochemical variables over the succession showed similarities between the advanced stage and the reference site: a higher testate amoeba diversity was associated with better carbohydrate preservation and a more heterogeneous botanical composition of the peat. The inferred water table depth and pH based on testate amoebae indicators proved to be an alternative approach for assessing restoration processes, in contrast to labour-intensive repeated measurements in the field. The botanical and biochemical composition of peat OM provided additional information on past anthropogenic perturbations of the bog and could be used for restoration monitoring. The combination of several indicators therefore provides a more complete assessment of ecological conditions that could be valuable for the management of cut-over peatlands.