Background: Tropical peat swamp forests (TPSF) are globally significant carbon stores, sequestering carbon mainly as phenolic polymers and phenolic compounds (particularly as lignin and its derivatives) in peat layers, in plants, and in the acidic blackwaters. Previous studies show that TPSF plants have particularly high levels of phenolic compounds which inhibit the decomposition of organic matter and thus promote peat accumulation. The studies of phenolic compounds are thus crucial to further understand how TPSF function with respect to carbon sequestration. Here we present a study of cycling of phenolic compounds in five forests in Borneo differing in flooding and acidity, leaching of phenolic compounds from senescent Macaranga pruinosa leaves, and absorption of phenolics by M. pruinosa seedlings. Results: The results of the study show that total phenolic content (TPC) in soil and leaves of three species of Macaranga were highest in TPSF followed by freshwater swamp forest and flooded limestone forest, then dry land sites. Highest TPC values were associated with acidity (in TPSF) and waterlogging (in flooded forests). Moreover, phenolic compounds are rapidly leached from fallen senescent leaves, and could be reabsorbed by tree roots and converted into more complex phenolics within the leaves. Conclusions: Extreme conditions-waterlogging and acidity-may facilitate uptake and synthesis of protective phenolic compounds which are essential for impeded decomposition of organic matter in TPSF. Conversely, the ongoing drainage and degradation of TPSF, particularly for conversion to oil palm plantations, reverses the conditions necessary for peat accretion and carbon sequestration.
- Macaranga pruinosa
- Phenolic recycling