New paper on the palaeoecology of a raised peatland, San Jorge

A newCoring at San Jorge paper in Palaeo3 by our group is now online here. The paper, “The vegetation history of an Amazonian domed peatland” by Kelly et al., reports the first pollen record from a domed mire in Amazonia. The record includes the first evidence from the region for discontinuous peat accumulation, which suggests that carbon sequestration may be sensitive to changes in boundary conditions (including climate). The record indicates that, unlike some domed peatlands in Panama and SE Asia, the pattern of change down-core appears not to match the spatial pattern of vegetation across the site. Finally, it indicates that the present-day vegetation at the site, a type of pole forest, has only been present in its current form for c. 200 years. Overall the record shows that these systems are impressively dynamic, with several substantial changes in vegetation composition over the ~2000 years that peat has been accumulating at the site. This work was funded by a NERC grant to Katy Roucoux et al., and by Tom Kelly’s NERC-funded PhD project, with additional fieldwork support from the RGS.

EGU session on tropical peatlands

EGUIan Lawson and colleagues from the UK Tropical Peat Working Group are organizing a session on “Tropical Peatlands” at EGU in April 2017. The call for abstracts is open with a deadline of 11 January 2017. All submissions welcome! The details of the session are here – the hope is to stimulate comparisons of peatlands across the tropics, building particularly on recent results from the Americas and Africa, but also benefiting from progress in SE Asia.

Carbon stock estimates underpin major new conservation project in Peru

Our work has been used to provide the science basis – the carbon stock estimates (Draper et al. 2014) – for a major new $6 million conservation project in Peru. This is the first conservation project to be funded by the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the major international funding mechanism that has been created to fund mitigation and adaptation to climate change in developing countries.

The full implementation of the Green Climate Fund  – intended to transfer funds of 100 billion dollars annually from developed to developing countries – is a major component of the UNFCCC negotiations that will be held in Paris over the next two weeks. The fund remains a contentious issue, as it touches on a key area of discord between nations: how countries that have contributed most to causing climate change, should compensate the nations that have contributed little, but will suffer the most. We are pleased that our science underpins the very first project to be approved by this fund, and is thereby helping the GCF to be seen as a credible and effective way of funding adaptation and mitigation of climate change, and support the emergence of a strong, effective and globally-binding deal during COP21 in Paris over the next two weeks.

The $6 million investment in conservation is an innovative project that will promote and develop sustainable ‘bio-businesses’  run by a range of indigenous communities in the Pastaza and Morona rivers of the northern Peruvian Amazon. These businesses will increase the incomes of these communities based on sustainable harvesting of the forest products such as palm fruit, and ensure that the extensive peatlands in this region are not degraded. As a result, the large carbon stores in this ecosystems will remain in the ground, as peat.

To read more about the GCF, see The project we are associated with is the first of the eight projects accepted in the first tranche of funding and is called ‘Building resilience of wetlands in the province of Datem del Maranon’.

New publication on the floristic composition of Peruvian wetland forests

Study sites

Location of wetland forest study sites near Jenaro Herrera, Rio Ucayali, Loreto, Peru (Figure 1; Honorio et al. 2015)

The floristic composition of the seasonally flooded and peat swamp forests of the Peruvian Amazon is poorly known in comparison to many other vegetation types in the region. But this lack of knowledge is not really due to a lack of fieldwork – there have been many environmental impact assessments related to the oil industry that incorporate floristic work as well as assorted inventories by different organisations. The problem is that these data remain hidden from public view and therefore knowledge does not accumulate and advance. This is the reason that this new publication by Euridice Honorio and colleagues at the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana is important: it provides open-access, baseline data on the structure and composition of Peruvian wetland forests. The availability of this information will help us to learn more about spatial variation in the composition of these ecosystems, as well as evaluate how they change over time.

Tropical wetlands in a global context: PAGES C-PEAT meeting

IMG_20151012_114253371PAGES C-PEAT is a new working group on the long-term history of peatlands around the globe. Drawing mainly on geological (including Holocene) perspectives, the group aims to synthesize our understanding of past change in peatland ecosystems and use that to help predict their future. Ian Lawson presented a summary of the group’s work on Pastaza-Marañón Basin peatlands at C-PEAT’s inaugural meeting at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New Jersey. This was one of a number of papers emphasizing the vulnerability of tropical peatlands to land-use change. Mapping future threats to peatlands – and opportunities for conservation – emerged as the basis of a new theme for the working group, which will be co-led by Ian.

Our carbon and vegetation map of Peruvian peatlands – in action


River levels are dropping in Loreto, northern Peru at this time of year, and that means that access is briefly possible to some of the fascinating peatland forests that we have been working on over the last few years. And for the first field season ever, the vegetation and carbon map published by Freddie Draper last year is available to guide our thinking about where to go and what to look out for. Many of these fieldtrips one way or another involve the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana, key members of the Tropical Wetlands Consortium, and it is exciting to have a framework that can be used to suggest places to go – and interpret the results as they come in. Our old friend Victor Chama who has worked with the RAINFOR plot network for many years, has taken an auger with him to the upper stretches of the Rio Corrientes where he is examining the state of the forests that are close to areas that have been impacted by the oil industry; we look forward to finding out how deep the peat is in this unstudied region. Other researchers at IIAP have reported new records of the unique pole forests (‘varillal hidromorfico’; the most carbon dense vegetation type in the Amazon) that was mapped for the first time last year, and these reports will help us improve our understanding of how these habitats have developed. The Carnegie Institute and CIFOR are also undertaking fieldwork in the region this year, with the support of IIAP. Finally, the Field Museum of Chicago is completing its report about their recent Rapid Inventory of sites along the Rio Tapiche; this report together with other rapid inventories from the southern area of the peatland complex will improve our understanding of this region. Doubtless, the current map will be improved as more field data becomes available. However, what is most exciting is how the map is allowing us to develop a truly landscape-scale perspective on how these special habitats have formed.