Modelling (peat accumulation) in the USA

A short report from a recent trip Adam Hastie made to learn from colleagues at the University of New Hampshire, USA.

I recently went to visit Steve Frolking and Claire Treat at the University of New Hampshire (Durham) to learn how to use the HPMTrop model (Kurnianto et al., 2015). HPMTrop is a 1D model driven by water table variation, which simulates mass remaining in annual peat cohorts as a balance between vegetation inputs and decomposition. In other words, it creates a peat core profile and predicts how much of the accumulated peat is derived from leaves, wood and roots respectively (Fig. 1 left). I am using our field data from litter fall and decomposition bags (Fig. 1 right) in the Pastaza-Marañon foreland basin (PMFB) in Peru to parametrize the model to local conditions, so that we can investigate the hydrological and productivity limits to peat accumulation. The great thing about HPMTrop is that you can run it in a matter of minutes, and so can quickly see what effect changing this or that parameter has on rates of litter production and decomposition.

Fig. 1. Left- cohort mass from leaves, woods and roots by age as simulated by HPMTrop. Right-% mass of stem, root and leaf material at two field sites in the Pastaza-Marañon foreland basin in Peru; Nueva York 3 (NYO_03) and Veinte de Enero 2 (VEN_02). Data: Cesar Cordova, Jhon del Aguila Pasquel, Greta Dargie

I also had a great time with Steve (and his lovely family) and Clare in beautiful New Hampshire! I was very well looked after being taken out to micro-breweries, Asian fusion restaurants and a local Irish (with a little “Loch Lomond” thrown in!) music night a few of the highlights. I also visited a picturesque coastal town called Kittery where I met the local whale (see photo below) but sadly the town’s name was a blatant case of false advertising, I didn’t see one kitten!

Adam, posing with the local whale of Kittery!

Report from the latest gathering of the UK TPWGroup

Here is a short report on the latest meeting of the UK TPWG, written by Lydia Cole. (This post was first posted here on the UK TPWG website.)

On 30th January, Prof Sue Page and Dr Sara Thornton hosted a meeting of the UK Tropical Peatland Working Group (UK TPWG).  An assortment of researchers gathered for one day at the University of Leicester, to present their work and discuss how the group can be more effective in the realm of tropical peatland science and responsible management.  Attendees successfully navigated the UK rail network from as far as Exeter on the south coast to St Andrews on the east coast of Scotland.  The most junior member of the group had a baptism of fire as the meeting marked the first day of his PhD – well done, Abdul!


Donna Hawthorne presenting on her palaeoecological component of the mega-CongoPeat project. (Credit: Lydia Cole.)

The day started with brief introductions from everyone present, with expertise ranging from palaeoecology to political economy, with a number of biogeochemists and modellers in the mix.  Fifteen people gave a summary of their current work in a short presentation.  The Congo Basin team started the proceedings with a lowdown on the state of knowledge on contemporary greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from these Central African peatlands (Nick Girkin), on their development history (Donna Hawthorne) and past and present spatial patterning (George Biddulph).  The distribution of carbon across Mexico’s wetlands was then showcased (Sofie Sjogersten), followed by insights into the emissions resulting from agriculturally important (and very deep!) peatlands in Uganda (Jenny Farmer).  Several presenters gave reports on the exciting new projects they are just embarking on, e.g. TroPeaCC (Angela Gallego-Sala), or the first findings gathered after recently returning from field campaigns, e.g. the Peru peatlands crew (Anna Macphie, Adam Hastie, Charlotte Wheeler and Lydia Cole).  Katy Roucoux gave a neat overview of the multiple different projects happening in the peatlands of the Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin in the Peruvian Amazon, showing a diversity of studies ranging from the modelling of carbon to the mapping of livelihoods, and a variety of palaeo- and neo-ecological studies.  The pantropical circle continued on to Southeast Asia’s peatlands, where we learnt about the importance of peatland fish for rural livelihoods, biodiversity conservation and much more (Sara Thornton); about exciting, and horrifying new measurements of the GHG emissions during the initial years of oil palm plantation establishment on Sarawakian peatlands (Jon McCalmont) and the pattern of biomass accumulation of these palms on organic-rich soils (Kennedy Lewis); finishing with a round-up of potential ways of reducing GHG emissions from peatland agriculture (Yit Arn Teh), such as wise use of fertilisers.

Woman laying out fish to dry, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Sara Thornton

Sara Thornton told of the importance of fishing for rural communities living in peatland areas in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.  (Credit: Sara Thornton.)

An engaged discussion followed each set of talks, resulting in as many unanswered questions as those we felt able to provide reasoned responses to.  Thus the UK TPWG, along with an extensive body of invaluable collaborators across the Tropics, is tasked with finding answers to these important knowledge gaps we identified (and the funding to match!).  Which wetland ecosystems of the Peruvian Amazon are peat-forming and why?  Where is the labile carbon from the peatlands of the Congo Basin disappearing to?  How can we reduce the impact of cultivating Uganda’s peatlands? And crucially, how do we work across disciplines, perhaps even interdisciplinarily, to tackle the complex challenge of tropical peatland conservation and restoration?


Jon McCalmont thanking the many people involved in his project in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. (Credit: Lydia Cole.)

If you have answers, questions or are interested in engaging with the group, please get in touch –

Tools of the interdisciplinary trade – a workshop at #BES2019

On 12th December 2019, mid-way through the British Ecology Society‘s Annual Meeting in Belfast, Althea Davies (Chair of the Palaeoecology SIG) and myself (Chair of the Conservation Ecology SIG) led a workshop entitled: Tools of the Interdisciplinary Trade: how to make your interdisciplinary project a success.  We were joined by Dr Kath Allen, a NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellow from the Institute of Integrative Biology, University of Liverpool, whom expertly facilitated the workshop.

Over 50 people come along to the lunchtime session, most of whom are currently engaged in interdisciplinary projects.  After introducing ourselves and theme of the workshop, we split everyone into four groups to discuss the main challenges they have faced in different stages of a research project.  We also, importantly, asked that they propose potential solutions to these challenges, and feed them back to the group.

The result was a very interesting exchange of experiences and thoughts on how to improve the success of a truly interdisciplinary project, where “success” manifests in the answering of a real-life challenge.

Althea, Kath and myself were so pleased with how everyone engaged in the theme and the discussions, and thank all those who came along.  We are currently working on an article that will summarise the knowledge we gained from our research on the theme and from running the event, which will be published in 2020’s first issue of the BES’ The Niche magazine.  If you would like to view the workshop slides, please click through to the Conservation Ecology website here.  And if you attended the event and would like to send through any feedback or further comments, please get in touch.

Talks and TV appearances in Iquitos

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!

Tropical Peatlands at EGU

Ian Lawson convened a session on “Peatlands in the tropics and beyond”, along with Claudio Zanelli, Sue Page, Hinsby Cuadrillo-Quiroz, and Jorg Kaduk, at EGU in Vienna. The session took place, appropriately, in the basement, in a packed room. Talks spanned a range of topics, including conservation, biochemistry and palaeoecology, from sites across the tropics (and one site in the Mediterranean as well). The talks were followed in the evening by a very well-attended poster session, including a poster by Ian and Katy Roucoux.

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.