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

Coding

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: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/12/congo-basin-swamps-peatlands-carbon-climate-change.

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.

New paper on the palaeoecology of a raised peatland, San Jorge

A newCoring at San Jorge 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.

Our carbon and vegetation map of Peruvian peatlands – in action

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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.