New postdoctoral research vacancies at the University of St Adnrews

We are pleased to announce three vacancies for postdoctoral research fellows, based at the University of St Andrews, to work on newly-funded projects about tropical peatlands. For further information about the posts and how to apply, please follow the link below (and narrow the search by “School of Geography and Sustainable Development.”

One of the posts is to work on the CongoPeat project, a NERC-funded Large Grant which will study the newly-described peatlands of the Congo Basin, Africa. This three-year PDRA position will focus on researching the long-term ecology of the Congo Basin peatlands (see the link for details).

Two of the posts are to work on the Valuing Intact Tropical Peatlands project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The project will investigate the ecology and socio-cultural value of peatlands; one of the posts is for a social scientist, the other for an ecologist (see the link for details). One further post associated with this project (in remote sensing) is currently being advertised at the University of Edinburgh.

Monitoring tropical wetlands as a tool for the conservation of Amazonian biodiversity

Harvesting fruits of ‘aguaje’ (Mauritia flexuosa) palms is a profitable activity for local communities in the wetlands of the Peruvian Amazon, and potentially the key to the long-term conservation of these ecosystems. However, expanding and ensuring the sustainability of this activity depends on maintaining the ‘health’ of aguaje populations,

Mauritia fruit

Aguaje fruit, ready for harvest

Aguaje is dioecious – which means that there are separate male and female individuals – and therefore sustainable harvesting depends on maintain a balance between the number of individuals of both sexes. However, typically, female trees have been felled to harvest their fruits, and in many areas, few fruit-producing trees remain.

The Peruvian Protected Areas Authority (SERNANP) is keen to promote sustainable forest management by local communities within protected areas, and aguaje fruit harvesting in Pacaya Samiria National Park is one of the most promising opportunities to achieve this goal. We are therefore working with SERNANP to support this activity, as part of our project ‘Monitoring the protected areas of Peru to increase forest resilience to climate change (MonANPeru)’ led by Tim Baker, and funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Climbing an aguaje palm

The ‘Makisapa’ climbing system, makes scaling palms easy!

Specifically, following a request from SERNANP, Karina Banda has developed a monitoring protocol for Mauritia flexuosa populations within the national system of protected areas. This protocol uses data from the network of long-term forest plots in wetland forest established by Euridice Honorio (IIAP), to identify indicators, design a sampling strategy and establish baseline values for monitoring the health of Mauritia flexuosa stands.

The plots provide crucial data on variation in two key indicators of forest health: overall aguaje density and the proportion of female aguaje trees. These data are being used to define the thresholds for these indicators, which will be used, in conjunction with regular monitoring, to identify how fruit extraction is affecting the health of aguaje stands. Implementing a clear and reliable monitoring system will help SERNANP expand aguaje harvesting to additional communities, and increase the value of the harvested fruit. For us, it is exciting to see how ecological monitoring data can be incorporated into biodiversity management to support both conservation and sustainable development in these landscapes.

Setting up intensive measurement plots in Peru

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…

New project to investigate the human dimension of Peruvian peatlands

We are pleased to announce the start of a new project at St Andrews entitled “Valuing Intact Tropical Peatlands”, funded by the Scottish Funding Council (ODA). The project takes the interests of the interests of the Tropical Wetland Consortium in a new, interdisciplinary direction – aiming to improve our understanding of how people use and value peatlands in the Pastaza-Maranon Foreland Basin of Peru. We welcome Dr Christopher Schulz, the postdoctoral research assistant for the project. Over the coming months he will work closely with colleagues at the Instituto de Investigacion de la Amazonia Peruana and local people (including indigenous communities) in two peatland areas to begin investigating the human dimensions of these carbon-dense ecosystems.

New paper on Amazonian peatland forests

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.

NERC project “Carbon Storage in Amazonian Peatlands: Distribution and Dynamics” begins

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:

New NERC grant

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.