New paper: Continuous human presence without extensive reductions in forest cover over the past 2500 years

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.

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:

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 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.

New paper in Wetlands Ecology and Management

Lawson et al. 2014 WEMLawson et al. “Improving estimates of carbon storage and flux in tropical peatlands” is now online at The paper was developed by members of the UK Tropical Peatlands Working Group and reflects the group’s ambition to work more closely together, using comparable research methods, in order to improve our understanding of carbon stocks and fluxes in the tropics.

New paper in Wetlands

WetlandsLawson et al. “The geochemistry of Amazonian peats” is available at This paper discusses new and existing geochemical data from Quistococha, Peru, and attempts to build a framework for interpreting peat chemistry. This is an important tool for understanding the processes of peat accumulation and decay, and ecosystem functioning.