From April to July 2018 Greta Dargie, Jhon del Aguila Pasquel, Julio Iriarica and Ian Lawson have been busy in the swamp forests of the Pastaza-Marañón Basin setting up monitoring sites.
At two key sites, at Nueva York and Veinte de Enero, we have installed a suite of equipment and initiated measurements aimed at measuring litter production and decomposition rates. At 14 further sites we are installing automated dipwells and litter decomposition bags. The aim is to better understand why carbon-rich peat soils accumulate in some places and not others.
A basal peat core from an open peatland at Veinte de Enero
Commuting to work through the flooded forest at Nueva York
Measuring the height of a palm tree
Setting up a litter transect
Installing a rain gauge at Veinte de Enero
One of the inhabitants of the aguajale: a skink
Christopher, Nina, Katy and Ian spent an interesting few hours surrounded by post-it notes, thinking through how to ‘code’ (analyse) the 51 interview transcripts, amounting to something like 150,000 words, generated by our SFC-ODA project on valuing peatlands in Amazonian Peru.
Interdisciplinary research in action!
Many interesting themes emerged – not least the myths, legends and superstitions that surround wetland environments in Peru – just as they do in the UK. We are also interested in themes such as resource use, sustainability, and gender issues.
Now that the decision has been taken about what to look for in the transcripts, the hard work of analysis will begin…
A new paper by Tom Kelly and other members of the Tropical Wetlands Consortium has just appeared in Journal of Quaternary Science.
Dr Tom Kelly and IIAP research assistant Julio Iriarica coring on Quistococha
As part of his PhD work, Tom showed that the lake at Quistococha, on the outskirts of Iquitos in Peru, contains a remarkable pollen and microcharcoal record. The data show an increase in pollen of the disturbance indicator Cecropia over the past century and a half, presumably reflecting the growth of Iquitos. Prior to that, the pollen record suggests little change in forest cover, despite a continuous microcharcoal record suggesting the presence of human populations.
A critical piece of evidence supporting our interpretation of the microcharcoal as an indicator of human presence was provided by co-author and archaeologist Santiago Rivas Panduro, who had previously published the results of excavations at an archaeological site adjacent to the lake. There, pottery, plant remains, and radiocarbon dates provide unequivocal evidence for prehistoric human occupation.
We suggest that the new record helps to support an emerging understanding that, in the wettest parts of Amazonia, there may have been little deforestation before modern times. This is an important qualification to the growing body of evidence from more seasonally-dry parts of the Amazon Basin which suggest that there, much of the forest had been cleared, at least episodically, in pre-Columbian times.
The article is published here.
Thumbs up all round following a successful TV interview
Poring over a map, planning our fieldwork campaign
During a project planning meeting in Iquitos Tim Baker, Ian Lawson, Santiago Rivas Perez and Euridice Honorio Coronado took the opportunity to present our recent work on Quistococha (Kelly et al. 2018) at the Ministry of Culture in Iquitos. We also appeared twice on local TV – a fun experience!
Freddie Draper and colleagues have a new paper in Ecography, online as an accepted article.
The paper, Peatland forests are the least diverse tree communities documented in Amazonia, but contribute to high regional beta-diversity, uses floristic data from a network of plots to show that peatland palm swamps and pole forests host distinctive floras.
Although, at the plot level, peatland forests are typically much less diverse than dry-land forests, the paper argues that they make a substantial contribution to regional beta diversity which, together with their dense below-ground carbon storage, enhances the case for conserving them.
This paper grew out of data and analyses conducted by Freddie during his NERC-funded PhD.
Our new NERC-funded project officially begins today, with the appointment of Dr Greta Dargie as a PDRA at St Andrews. Greta will be leading field and lab data collection, initially working with colleagues at IIAP in Iquitos.
Greta has been in the news recently in relation to her pioneering work in mapping Congolese peatlands: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/12/congo-basin-swamps-peatlands-carbon-climate-change.
Dr Katy Roucoux, Prof Nina Laurie and Dr Lera Miles (WCMC Cambridge) have been awarded a NERC CASE studentship to start in 2018 on “Human impact in Amazonian peatlands”.
Application details will appear soon at https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/gsd/opportunities/pg/phdfunding/.
Dr Katy Roucoux, together with Prof. Nina Laurie, has been awarded £29,981.88 for a new project, “Valuing Intact Tropical Peatlands”. The project will focus on understanding the ways in which the peatlands of the Pastaza-Marañón Basin, Peru, are used and valued by the communities who live around them. The project will run from January to May 2018.
Ian Lawson, Katy Roucoux, Tim Baker, Ed Mitchard and Mat Williams have been awarded NERC funding to continue their research into Amazonian peatlands. The project, “Carbon Storage in Amazonian Peatlands: Distribution and Dynamics”, will run for three years and aims to improve our understanding of the distribution and functioning of these globally-significant ecosystems.
Ian Lawson represented the group at the PAGES C-PEAT TropPEAT meeting in Honolulu, hosted by Dave Beerling at the University of Hawai’i.