The policy and practice of ecological restoration and conservation in China obtained some remarkable results. For example, Sphagnum moss growing on abandoned farmland, which was peatland before agricultural use, has rapidly expanded the wetland area in SW China. Microorganisms such as testate amoebae are sensitive to environmental change and thus have been widely used as ecological indicators in various habitats. We analyzed differently aged Sphagnum growing plots on a Sphagnum growing farmland and natural Sphagnum plots in SW China to examine how Sphagnum-dwelling testate amoeba communities and corresponding protozoic silicon (Si) pools respond to ecological restoration practice. We found that abundance, taxon richness, and diversity of testate amoebae were higher in Sphagnum growing farmland plots compared to natural Sphagnum plots. Protozoic Si pools showed an increase with Sphagnum growing time representing increased Si accumulation by idiosomic testate amoeba shells. However, protozoic Si pools were negatively correlated with taxon richness and diversity of testate amoebae. Our results showed that (i) natural Sphagnum plots were not characterized by the expected higher biodiversity of testate amoebae compared to Sphagnum growing plots and (ii) consequently protozoic Si pool quantity in natural Sphagnum plots was less driven by biodiversity of testate amoebae than expected. We concluded our results to underline the value of (i) environmental restoration policy in general and (ii) testate amoeba communities and corresponding protozoic Si pools for Si cycling in restoration areas of peatlands in particular. Based on our results, we recommend a sustainable cultivation of Sphagnum moss and an additional establishment of protected areas, where no Sphagnum harvesting occurs. These protected Sphagnum areas might represent hot spots of undisturbed testate amoeba communities and corresponding protozoic Si pools and thus of microbial Si cycling.

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How does Sphagnum growing affect testate amoeba communities and corresponding protozoic Si pools? Results from field analyses in SW China.