About Ian Lawson

Lecturer at the University of St Andrews

New article in Conservation Biology on protecting intact tropical peatlands

In an article published this month in the journal Conservation Biology, Katy Roucoux and co-authors identify and map threats to the recently-described intact peatlands of the Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin (PMFB) in north-east Peru. We highlight the need to protect these peatlands to avoid future degradation, and identify several key pathways for conservation.
In our study area the main threat to peatlands appears to be the expansion of commercial agriculture linked to the development of new transport infrastructure, which makes it easier for companies to access remote areas. Although some of the peatlands in the PMFB were found to fall within existing legally protected areas such as national parks, this protection is patchy, weak and not focused on protecting the most carbon-rich areas.
The article points out the considerable opportunities for conserving carbon stocks while at the same time addressing social and economic development goals in the region. The UN Green Climate Fund project in Datem del Marañón is a good example of the potential for peatlands to attract substantial amounts of money that can be used for sustainable development.
The paper’s authors are based in the School of Geography and Sustainable Development at the University of St Andrews (Roucoux, Lawson), the University of Leeds (Baker), University of Edinburgh (Mitchard), University of Reading (Kelly), Instituto de Investigacion de la Amazonía Peruana (del Castillo Torres, Honorio Coronado), Carnegie Institution for Science, Washington DC (Draper), Arizona State University (Lahteenoja), George Mason University (Gilmore), and the Field Museum, Chicago (Vriesendorp).
Link to the accepted manuscript: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cobi.12925/full

New publication on Congo’s peatlands in Nature

Elephant footprints in peat

Forest elephant footprints in peat in the Cuvette Centrale, Congo

A new paper led by Greta Dargie and co-authored by Ian Lawson in Nature reports the existence of 145,000 km2 of peatlands in the Cuvette Centrale of the Congo Basin. We estimate carbon storage at around 31.4 Gt C. This discovery increases the best estimate of carbon storage in tropical peatlands by about 30%.

The paper, available online early, can be found here. The research has been reported by, among others, the BBC, the Guardian, and the Conversation.

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.

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.