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.
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.
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.
Drs Ed Mitchard, Ian Lawson and Simon Mudd are advertising a PhD position under the SAGES competition. Based in Edinburgh, the student will develop remote-sensing and fieldwork-based approaches to mapping peat properties in the Peruvian Amazon, building on previous work by Draper et al. For more information, see FindAPhd.
A new 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.
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.
The results of Freddie Draper concerning the high carbon stocks of the peatlands of Loreto, northern Peru were featured in El Peruano – a Peruvian national newspaper. The article is based on our presentation on the margins of COP20, Lima, Peru in December 2014, and emphasises the role of the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana in leading research in tropical wetlands in northern Peru.
Two recent reports suggest that the potential threats to Amazonian peatlands from deforestation for oil palms and cacao, and gold mining and other extractive industries, are growing. The EIA published a particularly critical report last month, and MAAP also claims to have found evidence of significant deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon in its analyses of LandSat imagery. This raises the concern that the relatively unglamorous and little-known, but very carbon-dense peatlands in Loreto (Draper et al. 2014) could come under pressure if (often very badly needed) agricultural and industrial development is deflected away from terra firme forest.