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!

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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?

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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 – uktropicalpeat@gmail.com.

The Jungle Book Part II: Still no Paddington

Lydia Cole returns to tell a few tales of her recent stint of fieldwork in the Peruvian Amazon, as part of the Leverhulme Trust-funded project: Valuing Intact Tropical Peatlands: an Interdisciplinary Challenge.

In early December, I returned to a cold and dark Scotland after two months in a warm and sunny Peru. Although, after spending weeks in mosquito-ridden swamps, it was a relief to at least leave them behind. The warmth and sunshine, less so!

Since early October, I had been based, along with Luis, another postdoctoral fellow from the University of St Andrews, and Charlotte, from the University of Edinburgh, in the central Amazonian town of Iquitos; the largest city without a road connection to the rest of the world. We spent several days there in between trips, organising the logistics, equipment and food for each period of fieldwork. All of our work is done in collaboration with, and would be impossible without, the fantastic team of ecologists and anthropologists based at IIAP (Instituto de las Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana).

This recent trip upstream to the Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin was the second of two that we made as a group in 2019. I wrote a bit about the previous one here. Earlier in the year we didn’t have time to visit all of the four communities we intended to, so returned to spend time in and collect data from the final two: Nueva Pandora (on the Tigrillo tributary of the Chambira River) and Jenaro Herrera (on the larger Ucayali river). We also revisited the two communities we’d got to know back in May and June of 2019: Veinte de Enero (at the edge of the Pacaya-Samiria National Park) and Nueva Union (on the Chambira river), to fill in some data gaps and to train more community members in how to use a personalised data collection tool, ODK.

Six action-packed weeks were spent up-river altogether, splitting our time between each community. As before, each day involved squelching out into the surrounding wetlands. Our goal was to learn more about the types of forests that the community uses or in some way interacts with, and what the belowground environment and aboveground ecology was in each location. We were guided to areas of importance (appropriate for surveying) by a community member, seeming to effortlessly navigate the sucking swamps. Meanwhile, we would stop to tip out the sloshing aquarium in our wellies every few hundred metres! If our community guide told us it would take 30 minutes to get to a certain site, we knew it would take us double that, minimum.

Some of the incredibly strong women in Nueva Pandora, who were carrying kilos of palm shoots that they’d just harvested in the leach-infested swamps, back to their homes 30+ minutes away, without wellies. We stood and watching in awe as we set up a plot, in wellies.

Each location contributed a new angle to the story of lowland peatland development and ecology in the Peruvian Amazon and gave us food for thought on how people use this challenging landscape. Each location also yielded a novel short-term challenge, whether it be swarms of incessant bees, mosquitos who pay no attention to clothing or repellent, thigh-deep water, buckets of water being poured down from the heavens, snake super-highways, or ants who somehow turn up in your pants. Character-building at best; madness-inducing at worst. To my surprise, I left the jungle this time with a new love of the Amazon and its many wonders.

Bees – many and everywhere.

With the majority of the fieldwork now complete, it’s time to find out exactly what’s inside the many bags of samples that we brought back with us (peat or organic matter-rich mineral soil?) and explore the ecological and social survey data we collected. One major goal of the project is to produce a cohesive output that combines the quantitative ecological data with the qualitative social survey data, which will tell the story of the local value of the variety of wetland ecosystems in the PMFB. This will be a challenge, as is often the case in interdisciplinary work, but one that we are primed for.

Another major goal is to return to each community with the relevant results of our study and of the interactive studies that community members are carrying out with ODK, in order to enrich their knowledge, where relevant, and thus capacity to manage their relations to their environment, the people they interact with and the State.

And of course, we have to return to defend our title on the football pitch. And to find Paddington.

Our visiting Jiiri team posing with Nueva Pandora’s home team, the Leuuakus, after a long football match (and a long day in the swamp!). I am indebted too all of these people for their help and kindness over many days in the jungle.

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.

Impressions on my session at the INQUA Congress, Dublin 2019

This summer I convened a session at the 20th congress of the International Quaternary Association in Dublin. A large international conference of over 2000 delegates, the focus of the conference was the Earth and its ecosystems from 2.6 million years ago up to the present (the Quaternary period) and into the future. My session was entitled: Quaternary science and the arts, humanities and social sciences and included (as I had hoped) presentations and posters representing a diverse range of projects, united by their use of cross-disciplinary approaches and commitment to communication and engagement beyond these disciplines. Three presentations in the session stood out to me. Firstly, Suzie Richer and Ben Geary presented their argument for a need for “ecocritical palaeoecology” that is, palaeoecological research which considers the debate between realist and constructivist epistemologies, acknowledges that perception is mediated through language, understands that data are never neutral, thinks about what our narratives communicate (unintentionally), and appreciates that once we speak we are interpreted. These considerations are interesting (to me) in their own right, but they are also useful because they enable us to communicate better, more clearly and, importantly more relevantly beyond our own discipline and beyond the academy; points which Lydia and Althea also made in their presentations about the importance of integrating socially-oriented enquiry into palaeoecological research. Secondly, Blas Lorenzo Valero- Garcés presented the results of recent work by a network of scientists, artists and citizens in the Spanish Pyrenees who have not only produced palaeoenvironmental reconstructions records from Pyrenean lake sediments (in the usual way of Quaternary scientists) but also interpreted the findings as music (translating time-series lake sediment and pollen data into melodies and harmony using a specially designed code) and used the results to engage local musicians (who made the music sound beautiful) and the local community (through discussion of the music and its origin). It’s hard to explain so here is the link in case you’d like to read more and hear the result https://opcc-ctp.org/en/noticia/marbore-symphony. Another, possibly even more original, interpretation of these lake records were also produced, in the form of a genre-defying art form I can only describe as “dancing-painted-hands-animated-to-illustrate-landscape-reponses-to-climate-change-film”. Thirdly, Julian Ruddock and Henry Lamb presented their recent science-art project entitled, 2A earth core: the hominin project (https://www.aberystwythartscentre.co.uk/exhibitions/2a-earth-core-hominin-project-julian-ruddock), a collaboration between palaeoclimatologists and Ruddock, an artist, working at first in the field in Ethiopia (with scientists drilling a dry lake bed and the artist documenting the field work in photographs, film and audio) and later to produce a gallery installation with interactive elements which served as both artistic response and interpretation of the work, and communication of the science and its beauty for the general public.
These works, at the interface between art and science, made me think again about what art is, what science is and how they differ. Why, when an artist shows a picture of a sediment core (albeit enlarged and projected on to a wall and scrolled past over the course of 24 hours to an eerie sound track of slowed down drilling machine sounds) is this art, but a photograph of a core section belongs to science? Does the artistic interpretation (whether an art exhibition or a symphony) help the science to be accessible or relevant? Is this “artistic interpretation” more accessible than the way a scientist might present the same information, or less accessible (as conceptual/contemporary art is often said to be)? Perhaps it makes the audience (including the scientists) look, and see, in a way they might not otherwise and thus pay attention. If science becomes culture and culture is more open to all than science, then perhaps such engagement with artists and musicians will be a productive way forward to make our science heard, albeit one that is open to (re)interpretation by viewers and listeners. Those who presented in this presentation certainly found that it had been.

Field Work in the Rio Chambira, by Manuel Martín

Acabo de regresar de un viaje de campo a la cuenca baja y media del río Chambira. Si tuviera que poner una banda sonora a los recuerdos de mi viaje, sería sin duda triste y poco esperanzadora. La marginación y la pobreza real en la que viven las comunidades urarina de esta olvidada zona del departamento de Loreto son difícilmente descriptibles.

El viaje ha estado lleno de contrastes y sobresaltos. Por un lado, hemos sido testigos de las operaciones de la compañía PlusPetrol, que opera el oleoducto norperuano que atraviesa el territorio de varias comunidades urarina de la zona. Helicópteros, cuyo flete cuesta miles de dólares, sobrevolando comunidades que no tienen acceso al agua, ni sistemas adecuados de saneamiento, ni escuelas o alguna infraestructura que les permita tener una educación pertinente y una buena calidad de vida.

Dos de las comunidades con las que trabajamos, decidieron abandonar sus asentamientos tradicionales para acercarse más a la orilla del río Chambira. Muchos dicen que para facilitar los proyectos de desarrollo con los que la empresa petrolera los seduce de manera permanente, con el beneplácito, por supuesto, de asesores externos de las comunidades y silencio absoluto de federaciones e instituciones que deberían defender los derechos básicos de estas comunidades. La negociación de la empresa con las comunidades por el derecho de servidumbre siempre se realiza de forma privada, legalmente, según el ordenamiento jurídico del país.

El oleoducto norperuano se rompe a pedazos. Tuvimos la oportunidad de visitar un derrame producido el año 2014, que nunca fue informado y, por lo tanto, tuvo una remediación tipo maquillaje. El crudo ha penetrado los suelos inundables donde estas comunidades se han asentado. Con cada crecida del río el petróleo accede a las cochas y los ríos. La gente ingiere agua y come peces contaminados. 

Solo cuando se convive con los urarina, se consume el agua que ellos beben, se comen los pescados que ellos pescan, se entiende la situación en la que viven todas estas comunidades. Los derrames seguirán (a pesar de las promesas de sustitución de los tubos) y la situación será cada día más crítica.

¿A quién le importa la vida o la muerte de pueblos que no hablan nuestra lengua? A mí me importa y es por este motivo que escribo estas líneas. Algunos asesores dicen que la decisión es siempre tomada libremente por las comunidades. ¿Si vieran que su vecino pretende saltar del tercer piso de su vivienda, no harían nada por evitarlo? El dinero corrompe terriblemente, compra voluntades y borra la capacidad de mirar al futuro. La situación es crítica, es preciso hacer algo. Basta de entregar dinero a las comunidades y prometer proyectos que no sirven para nada. Intentemos mejorar la calidad de vida de las comunidades generando capacidades en los jóvenes, fortaleciendo la identidad, recuperando las reivindicaciones tradicionales en los procesos de diálogo. Basta de seducir con dinero a las comunidades. Basta de ejecutar proyectos inadecuados para lavar nuestras consciencias. Realicemos un diagnóstico participativo con cada comunidad, entendamos su realidad, convivamos con ellas, aseguremos el futuro de los niños y niñas urarina que viven en el Chambira.

  • Manolo Martín

Sucked in (to the swamps)

Lydia Cole describes her recent experiences of ‘walking’ through/being sucked into the peat swamps of the western Amazon.

A colleague, being sucked in.  (She is entering a type of palm swamp dominated by Mauritia flexuosa, locally known as an aguajál and important for the fruit that can be harvested there.)

At the end of June, I got back from two months of fieldwork in the Peruvian Amazon.  The swamps, the Amazon, Peru, and indeed South America, were all new to me, having spent most of my research career to date searching for remnants of intact peatlands in Southeast Asia.

In the Pastaza-Maranon Foreland Basin (PMFB), a large area of the lowland Amazon within the Department of Loreto, Peru, you’re pushed to find any land that isn’t swampy to walk on.  Mapping projects to date have estimated the peatlands of the PMFB to cover 100,000km2.  One of the reasons I was there, along with six colleagues (from the Universities of St Andrews, Edinburgh and Manchester) and a bunch of exceptional assistants, was to help improve the accuracy of this estimate.  We each had slightly different data gathering agendas, but overall were trying to find out more about the evolution, ecology, condition and value of these peatlands, both from a local and global perspective.

Washing clothes in Veinte de Enero, on the banks of the Yanayacu river, on one of the many fine evenings after coming back from a sweaty day in the swamps.

My focus, along with that of Luis Andueza (fellow St Andrean) and Charlotte Wheeler (Edinburgh), was to investigate how people value the wetland ecosystems of the PMFB.  Luis formed a key part of the social science team, made up of a great bunch of co-investigators and assistants from the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana (IIAP).  They spent many hours asking many questions of the members of three communities, Veinte de Enero, Nueva Union and Nueva Pandora, living on the banks of the Yanayacu, Chambira and Tigrillo rivers, respectively.  They, incidentally, drank a variety of liquids during the interviews, to facilitate their social integration with the communities!

The ecological crew I was with, busy measuring what we measure in a plot. Spot the agile one up the tree. Never have I seen such heights scaled so quickly, and with such ease! (I might need to adapt the Risk Assessment for the next trip, however.)

Concurrently, Charlotte and myself, led by our brilliant botanist, Nállarett, and two courageous Field Assistants, Julio S and Julio I, were out exploring the many ecosystems that surrounded these communities.  Our work was, in essence, a big treasure hunt.  Our mission (that I questioned why I’d chosen to accept at various points of inundation!) was to find the gold – the code-word for peat.  We ventured into the environment surrounding the three communities in order to “ground-truth” information of two sorts: (i) ecosystem types/resource extraction locations marked on participatory maps generated by the communities in workshops run by the social science team, and (ii) maps generated through remote sensing (using Landsat imagery) that depict changes in land cover, with the different ‘covers’ yet to be confidently identified or understood from an ecological perspective.  We spent approximately 20 days cutting our way through swampy forests of all shapes and sizes.  When we came across a new ecosystem type, and felt that we could work at that location for two hours without sinking, we gathered data on various above- and below-ground characteristics.  One of the most challenging plots was half a meter under water, at a location aptly named “31 Devils”.  Thankfully, I’ve had previous experience of snorkelling in bogs.

Now that we’re all back on solid ground, we’re starting to explore all of the ecological and interview data collected from the swamps, to try to understand how people use, and importantly, how they value the wetlands ecosystems of the PMFB, as well as understanding the physical characteristics of these ecosystems from a western scientific perspective.  Our initial findings suggest that there are a whole range of forested wetlands used by these communities, composed of a huge diversity of flora on both peat and non-peatlands, and on a confusing mix of peaty-lands in between.  And, not unsurprisingly, people tend to avoid the deeper, looser, more “sucking”, mosquito-ridden swamps, when and where they can!  Sensible folk.  But we still have much to learn about the nuances of how each community values these carbon-rich, biodiverse and beautiful ecosystems.

Some of the great team, fresh-faced and smiling at the start of our fieldwork campaign!  (One member of the team may have been carried over the swamps in some parts.  Many other members of the team wished someone would carry them over the swamps in all parts.)

In the pole forests of the Rio Tapiche-Blanco, Peru

As part of our ongoing research on understanding the distribution and dynamics of Peruvian peatlands, I spent part of July with a IIAP-St Andrews-Edinburgh team exploring the floodplain of the Rio Tapiche and its tributary, the Rio Blanco.

Thinly-spaced pole forest near the Rio Blanco

Pole forest near the Rio Blanco

IIAP research boat “Tornillo II” moored in the seasonally flooded forest at the start of a day’s fieldwork.

The Tapiche is a right-bank tributary of the Ucayali, in the south of the Pastaza-Marañón Basin. It’s not exactly remote – our field sites are around eight hours by speedboat from Nauta – but there are only half a dozen small communities between the little service port of Requena and the headwaters of the Blanco, and essentials, especially fuel, are hard to come by. IIAP’s research boat, the Tornillo II, was near its limit with six on board plus food for a week, gasoline and all our sampling equipment.

The logistical pains paid off as we set out to collect field data to test and refine our predictions about the distribution of carbon stored in peat. Gratifyingly, everywhere we thought we would find peat, we did. Our field days involved arriving at a pre-defined point at the river bank, cutting a rough trail through the (usually non-peaty) seasonally-flooded forests bordering the river, then working inland as far as we could within the time constraints of the 12-hour tropical day. Along the way we took samples and recorded the characteristics of the vegetation and soils. This season we are using a combination of the rapid survey techniques we have used in the past, and a more comprehensive inventory that takes a couple of hours for the team to complete (but is still quicker than the four to seven days it takes to set up a permanent census plot).

Sampling peat in the Rio Blanco basin

These techniques are helping us to see nuances in the vegetation that we were not so aware of in the past. Along the Blanco we saw many variations on what the team is now thinking of as ‘jiiri’ – an Urarina word (see our recent publication here) that refers to all ‘open’ peatlands, where ‘open’ can mean anything from totally lacking trees, to a fully closed tree canopy made up of short, thin trees (a ‘varillal’ or ‘pole forest’). It’s becoming clear to us that these environments are very variable, forming a gradient (or several gradients) of varying canopy height, stem density, and canopy openness. There seem to be big differences too in the importance of flooding, and in the character of the substrate (though we have always, so far, found peat underneath them).

Dense pole forest

Pole forest showing clear flood marks

Floristic and geochemical data will hopefully provide a more solid description and functional understanding of these various environments, as will palaeoecological analysis (the chosen topic of PhD student Dael Sassoon). In the medium term, this understanding of how different ecological units inter-relate will help us to understand how and where carbon is stored in the peaty soils of the western Amazon.

We were very generously hosted and assisted in our work by the community of Nueva Esperanza.

Fieldwork in Veinte de Enero, by Dael Sassoon

Dael tries out the method for measuring hydraulic conductivity (honest). 

The 4th of May marked the beginning of fieldwork in the Peruvian Amazon for many of us. In the first week of our trip, it was a pleasure to spend time with the researchers from IIAP organising logistics and discussing fieldwork plans. After a week of method trialling and eating delicious Loretan dishes, we set off to the small community of Veinte de Enero to begin our research. The many ongoing projects, ranging from understanding the uses of the palm swamps (‘aguajales’) to the diversity and structure of the forest, created a stimulating and fun environment which allowed us to bond as a team and support each other in the challenges of fieldwork. Trekking through the sinking ground (‘chupaderas’) of the palm swamps and open peatlands was a testing yet memorable experience, often involving insect bites, wet boots and tripping over roots and vines. The help of the field assistants was indispensable to carry out our fieldwork safely and successfully. It was great fun to spend time with them as we recorded data in the forest, as well as getting to know them over a fresh beer at the village’s shop after a day of hard work. I am missing Peru now, but looking forward to start looking at my results and begin planning my next trip. A great ¡buena suerte! to everyone that is still in the field, and hope to meet the team again soon to hear all about their trip to Chambira.

A visit to the Urarina in the Chambira basin, by Luis Andueza

Photos: the new settlement of Nueva Union (top) and Nueva Pandora (below).

During the last weeks of February and the first weeks of March a team of 7 people from different institutions—including the University of St Andrews, IIAP, the Universidad Católica de Lima, and the Ministry of Culture—made a 10 day visit to the Chambira river basin. For the St Andrews team, the aim was that of presenting the ‘Valuing Tropical Peatlands’ project proposal to the communities we would potentially be working with, asking whether they were interested in participating, and of getting a better sense of the changing situation in the area. We were specially concerned about the community of Nueva Unión, with whom some in the team had worked before, and whom we had heard had resettled from its original location on one of the small tributaries of the Chambira, to the now flooded banks of the Chambira river itself. The trip was very enlightening as it gave us a clearer sense of the sort of transformations and pressures Urarina communities and their territories are currently facing, and allowed us to continue to develop the project’s initial approach and research questions—related to the cultural values and meanings of peatlands—through an ongoing dialogue with local experiences and concerns. Of particular relevance were those issues related to the operation of oil companies in the area, and how these articulate both with rapid changes in indigenous economies, and with long-standing Urarina strategies in relating to national society, extractive capital, and the Peruvian state. The process of resettlement had been part of this situation, as, according to local accounts, it responded to local negotiations with PlusPetrol, the company operating the area.

We also got to visit communities along the Tigrillo river, a tributary of the Chambira. Among these, was the community of Nuevo Pandora, to whom we presented our project, and manifested their interest in participating.

In general, what became clear, is that the changing local relations to the landscape, and to peatlands in particular, must be understood in the fraught context of racialised strategies of extraction, and indigenous strategies of adaptation and resistance. In this context, this project can contribute to make local relations, values, and meanings attached the landscape more visible in novel ways—something which can hopefully aid local efforts to defend of indigenous territories and ways of life in a context of rapid and uneven social and ecological transformations.

Luis Andueza, March 2019

‘Aguaje and apple’, anyone?

Link

The CIFOR organised meeting ‘El contexto científico y el marco institucional para la gestión sostenible de las turberas en el Perú’ proved a good opportunity to catch up with the latest peatland science and efforts to manage peatlands in Peru. Organised by Kristell Hergoualc’h and Natalia Malaga, it brought together a novel combination of people working with the peatlands in the Andes and Amazon and demonstrated the important convening role that CIFOR can play in bringing scientists and policymakers together.

Three things stood out for me. Firstly, there was a notable alignment among speakers from national and regional government organisations to support peatland management. Of course, there is plenty to do to align the various official conservation strategies and initiatives to integrate peatlands effectively in national policy. However, I hadn’t heard such consistent enthusiasm and understanding of the issues before from such a wide range of organisations.

Secondly, there is tangible action as well. José Alvarez, (now Director General de Diversidad Biológica at the Environment Ministry), described the soon-to-be-released ‘aguaje and apple’ drink by AJE (itself a fascinating Peruvian success story that emerged from the troubled 1980s) as part of their new Bio range. Increasing the market for aguaje-based products is undoubtedly one part of the solution to managing the peatlands sustainably.

Thirdly, it was encouraging from my own ecological perspective, to see how the relatively new concept of the ‘peatland pole forests’ – the forest type that is found on the oldest, ombrotrophic peatlands in Amazonia – is being understood, accepted and integrated within discussions about peatlands. Jose Alvarez gave a warm appreciation of the unique bird species contained in these ecosystems, and their links to the better-known pole forests that grow on white sand soils.

So, it was a good meeting; but of course it is all underpinned by getting out and working to understand these peatlands. In that context, its amazing to think of all the fieldwork that is now kicking off by the remarkable collective of people leading and involved in the Tropical Wetlands Consortium. Teams will map aguaje populations using drones, understand how communities use these ecosystems and how they are degraded, validate maps of peatland extent based on remote sensing images, and address a whole range of other questions. Truly interdisciplinary and very exciting.