An inter-continental comparison of tropical peatland dynamics

Funding Body: SARRF – St Andrews Restarting Research Funding Scheme

Project Duration:  01/2021 – 07/2021

Project Overview:

The very large deposits of peat in the Amazon and Congo Basins have gained global interest due to their huge carbon stocks and carbon sink capacity. Work is ongoing to understand how to protect these carbon stocks, and this has been a major focus for research and policy development. Tropical peatland carbon stocks, as well as their flora and fauna, are under threat from human pressures and 21st century climate change. To predict peatland responses to these pressures, we need to understand the environmental controls on peatland dynamics on timescales of decades to millennia.

Several projects in Amazonia and the Congo have begun to investigate the peat stratigraphy and fossil pollen to reconstruct the history of peatland development. The challenge now is to connect this research to generate a synthetic understanding of peatland development across the tropics. Policy interventions are increasingly organized at a pan-tropical level, under the United Nations Environment Programme. Therefore, inter-tropical comparative analyses such as this are useful in that they incorporate the similarities and differences in ecosystem behaviour, the biogeographical variations between continents and the full variety and richness of ecosystem behaviour across the tropics, enabling us to work towards a clearer understanding of tropical peatland succession, which can potentially feed into conservation policy.

Project Aims:

  1. Extend our modern pollen rain dataset for Amazonian and Congo peatland vegetation types to establish the pollen-vegetation relationship.
  2. Develop the basis of a generalized conceptual model of peatland development by comparing plant functional types.
  3. Characterise trait assemblages for each vegetation type by multivariate analysis.
  4. Explore the potential for a systematic comparison of peatland successions in tropical regions by utilising pollen-plant functional traits.

Team Members:

Name Role Affiliation/Institute
Katherine Roucoux Principle Investigator University of St Andrews
Ian Lawson Co-Investigator University of St. Andrews
Christine Åkesson Post-Doctoral Research Fellow University of St. Andrews
Donna Hawthorne Post-Doctoral Research Fellow University of St. Andrews