Conference presentations

Here are the abstracts of presentations that the group have given at a variety of conferences.


BES Annual Meeting 2022, Edinburgh, UK, December 2022

The presence of peat and variation in tree species composition are under different hydrological controls in Amazonian wetland forests

Eurídice Honorio (University of St Andrews), Gerardo Flores, Jhon Del Aguila, Jimmy Cordova, Antenor Diaz, Jose Reyna, Julio Grandez (IIAP), Ian Lawson (University of St Andrews), Adam Hastie (University of Edinburgh), Andy Baird, Tim Baker (University of Leeds)

The peat‐forming wetland forests of northern Peru have the highest carbon density across the Amazon basin and supply key resources to communities. Understanding how flooding controls the presence of peat and floristic composition is important for predicting the impact of climate change on these services. We measured water table depth (WTD) over 2.5 years, pH and electrical conductivity in twelve forest plots to understand how these variables determine tree species composition and the presence of peat. Variation in composition was linked to minimum WTD (i.e. maximum flooding height), while peat was linked to maximum WTD (i.e. depth of water table below the ground). Peat is found in all forest types where maximum WTD does not fall >0.55 m below the ground. Peat formation and tree species composition have different ecohydrological controls. Predicted increases in the strength of flooding events may alter tree species composition, whereas drought severity may affect peat carbon stocks.


BES Annual Meeting 2022, Edinburgh, UK, December 2022

T2: Biocultural Landscapes and heritage: reshaping ecology? – Thematic sessions (Online)

Althea Davies & Katy Roucoux (University of St Andrews)

Most ecology takes place in landscapes shaped by culture, but accommodating cultural voices and values remains a challenge for ecology. This thematic session offers an interdisciplinary perspective on how ecological understandings are being informed, reshaped and co-constructed by working across different cultures, drawing on creative writing, anthropology, sustainable development and history.


BES Annual Meeting 2022, Edinburgh, UK, December 2022

People & peatlands in the Peruvian Amazon: an exploration of social-ecological dynamics

Lydia Cole, Euridice Honorio (University of St Andrews), Charlotte Wheeler (University of Cambridge), Luis Andueza (King’s College London), Nallarett Dávila, Jose Reyna, Jhon Del Águila, Margarita Villacorta, Wendy Mozombite, Manuel Martín, Cecilia Nuñez (IIAP), Nina Laurie, Althea Davies (University of St Andrews), Edward Mitchard (University of Edinburgh), Katy Roucoux (University of St Andrews)

Only recently has the global community become aware of the location and extent of carbon-rich peatlands in the Peruvian Amazon. Local communities, however, have been living in and around these ecosystems for many hundreds of years. To understand the ways in which local communities interact with and value peatlands in Peru’s Pastaza-Marañón Basin, an interdisciplinary team carried out ecological surveys and interviews. In the community of Veinte de Enero, located within the Pacaya Samaria National Reserve, the relationship between people and peatlands is central to livelihoods and strongly mediated by Reserve authorities. People rely on fruits harvested from the aguaje palm, Mauritia flexuosa, growing in peatland palm forests, for their income, whilst access to other resources from the protected area are restricted. Understanding the spatial and temporal dimensions of local social-ecological relationships is critical for informing national policy makers as they develop governance and management plans for these peatlands.


International Peatlands Congress (Online), May 2021

Peat, palms and people: human impacts on Amazonian peatlands

Anna Macphie, Katy Roucoux, Nina Laurie, Althea Davies (University of St. Andrews) and Lera Miles (United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre)

Globally, lowland tropical peatlands are estimated to cover 441,000 km2. The peatlands of North Peru’s Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin account for 35,600 ± 1088 km2 of this area with peat deposits recorded up to 7m thick. Tropical peatlands play a vital role in the global carbon cycle as carbon sinks but, despite their importance, they are often overlooked in conservation plans due to their relatively low floristic diversity compared to terra firme forest. Amazonian peatlands are also important for local forest-dwelling communities as they provide a wide range of natural resources and ecosystem services such as food, timber, hydrological regulation, and socio-economic benefits. This interdisciplinary project uses a combination of social and natural science methods to investigate the ways in which the management and utilisation of natural resources in the peatlands of North Peru’s Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin impact these ecosystems. By comparing social, ecological and palaeoecological indicators of ecosystem use, the project looks at how degradation is understood from different disciplinary approaches. From the social science perspective, this involves ethnographic study and observations in rural communities and interviews with key stakeholders from in-country NGOs to understand the political and legal frameworks within which conservation and sustainable development efforts are able to operate. From the natural science perspective, this involves identifying indicators of degradation visible both in the current surface vegetation and within the palaeo record preserved within the peat, which enables the reconstruction of historical usage of these areas and aids our understanding of how tropical peatlands can be impacted by human activity, and if/ how they are subsequently able to regenerate.


International Peatlands Congress (Online), May 2021

Amazonian open peatlands: a palynological investigation of Late Holocene vegetation succession at Veinte de Enero, Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin, Peru

Dael Sassoon, William Fletcher, Peter Ryan (University of Manchester), Katherine Roucoux and Ian Lawson (University of St. Andrews)

The Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin (PMFB), a globally important peatland complex, comprises a mosaic of various types of swamp and flooded forest, interspersed with treeless, ‘open’ peatlands. Most previous work has focused on palm swamps and pole forest, while open peatlands remain comparatively understudied. This project aims to understand the formation of open peatlands in the PMFB, identify drivers of vegetation change, and determine the spatial and temporal relationship between the vegetation succession pathways of open peatlands and other peatland vegetation types. To meet these aims, fieldwork in the PMFB was carried out in 2019 near the village of Veinte de Enero, north-eastern Peru. Two peat cores were collected from an area of open peatland (VEN_OP) and palm swamp (VEN_PS). Downcore palynology revealed a transition from a lake scenario, to a transitional phase with herbaceous swamp plants, and finally to a palm swamp forest dominated by the flood-tolerant palm Mauritia flexuosa. Radiocarbon dates from VEN_OP (1500 cal yr BP) and VEN_PS (990 cal yr BP) also indicate that peat first began to accumulate at the centre of the peatland and more recently towards the margins, in the palm swamp. This suggests that the site of VdE is undergoing terrestrialisation. Thanks to the rangefinder dates and preliminary statistical analysis, we found that the beginning of the VEN_PS record, before the transition to palm swamp, closely resembles the changes observed throughout the VEN_OP record. Thus, we suggest that open peatlands at Veinte de Enero represent an early stage of succession. Further work will involve comparing these results with another open peatland site in the PMFB, San Roque. The two sites are hydrologically separate, but they may have been affected by the same climatic changes and vegetation succession phases. Comparison will help unify a model about the formation of open peatlands in the PMFB.


International Peatland Congress 2021 (Online), May 2021

The peatlands of lowland Peru: an exploration of the ecological and socio-ecological value of these ‘sucking’ swamps

Lydia Cole, Luis Andueza, Katy Roucoux, Ian Lawson, Nina Laurie and Althea Davies (University of St Andrews, UK), Charlotte Wheeler and Ed Mitchard (University of Edinburgh, UK), Nállarett Dávila, José Reyna, Margarita del Águila Villacorta, Wendy Darlyn, Manuel Martín Brañas, Cecilia del Carmen Nuñez Perez and Euridice Honorio Coronado (Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana, Peru)

The tropical peatlands of Peru are mostly found within the subsiding Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin (PMFB) of the western Amazon. Their full geographical extent, role in global carbon cycling and suite of ecological and socio-ecological values are still largely unknown. Our Leverhulme Trust-funded project aims to address knowledge gaps on: (i) the types of peat-forming ecosystems that exist in the PMFB; and, (ii) the ways in which local people use and value the different types of wetlands present there, in order to understand the local basis for protecting these globally important ecosystems. During four months in 2019, a team of ecologists and social scientists performed field surveys and a range of interviews in four communities living in the proximity of peat-forming ecosystems within the PMFB. After a process of participatory mapping and key informant interviews within each community, plots of 0.1ha were set-up in the range of wetland forest types used by community members, and above- and belowground characteristics sampled. The ecological survey data demonstrate that peat is forming under a wide range of forest types and hydrological conditions. Results from the social surveys show that peatland ecosystems have several, specific uses for people living locally, e.g. for the harvesting of aguaje fruit (from the Mauritia flexuosa palm), but otherwise are avoided where possible. Initial conclusions from our interdisciplinary study suggest that, although these ecosystems form an important part of the geography and socio-ecological dynamics of these communities, their use in local livelihood acquisition does not threaten their status as intact ecosystems. Further, the threats to the wetlands of the PMFB are arriving from extra-local sources, and their impacts on the resident ecological and socio-ecological systems are starting to unravel.


BES Annual Meeting 2020: Festival of Ecology (Online), December 2020

Peru: The role of Peruvian peatlands in the mitigation of climate change

Eurídice Honorio, Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana (IIAP)

Peru holds the most extensive peatlands of the whole Amazon basin. However, these ecosystems are extremely dynamic, sensitive to changing river levels and under threat from direct human impacts such as new infrastructure development and commercial agriculture. The Tropical Wetlands Consortium, an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana and three British universities, is leading efforts in understanding the long-term dynamics of peatlands. This is raising awareness of the potential of these ecosystems to contribute to climate change mitigation. This presentation will summarize the scientific results of recent interdisciplinary projects about the ecology, carbon storage, uses and values, and long-term ecosystem history of these important ecosystems, and present examples of conservation and sustainable uses of peatlands in Peruvian Amazonia.


BES Annual Meeting 2020: Festival of Ecology (Online), December 2020

(Submitted as an e-poster and lightning talk)

Perspectives on Perú’s peatlands; exploring ecological and indigenous classifications of the sucking swamps of the western Amazon

Lydia Cole, Charlotte Wheeler, Luis Andueza, Nállarett Dávila, José Reyna, Margarita del Águila Villacorta, Wendy Darlyn, Manuel Martín Brañas, Cecilia del Carmen Nuñez Perez, Euridice Honorio Coronado, Ian Lawson, Nina Laurie, Ed Mitchard, Althea Davies and Katy Roucoux

The tropical peatlands of Perú are mostly found within the subsiding Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin (PMFB) of western Amazonia. Their geospatial extent, role in global carbon cycling and ecological diversity are key research topics. Of equal importance is understanding their role in local livelihoods and society. Through a case study exploring the interaction of Urarina indigenous people with their surroundings, this study compares the different ecosystem classification systems used and values assigned by local communities versus by conventional ecological science. Extensive ecological data collected within the PMFB in 2019 provide information on the distribution and ecological diversity of the wetland ecosystems around two Urarina communities; interview data reveal the ways in which these ecosystems, and in particular peatlands, are used, valued and classified by these communities. In combination, these sets of knowledge provide a nuanced understanding from which to develop more appropriate conservation policies for these locally, and globally important wetlands.


56th Annual Meeting of The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, August 2019

Detecting economically important palms using UAV imagery in intact, moist tropical forest

Ximena Tagle, Lourdes Falen, Gerardo flores, Euridice Honorio, Timothy Baker

Palm trees are important resources in the moist tropical forest due to the provisioning ecosystem services that they supply, especially for fruit production. Some of these fruits are considered as “super foods” due to their rich nutritional values, and they are an important food for both local communities and fauna. A common constraint to expanding sustainable management of palms in intact forest has been the difficulty of mapping their abundance and distribution at large scales. Typical ground-based surveys sample small areas, while management decisions require precise information at larger scales. In recent years, small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have become an important tool for mapping forest areas as they are cheap and easy to transport, and they provide high spatial resolution imagery of remote and difficult-to-access areas. This study combined field data and RGB UAV imagery to identify and delineate palm tree crowns in intact forest in the Peruvian Amazon. Nine permanent RAINFOR plots with 1,472 reference palm trees were flown with a Phantom 4Pro UAV from October to December 2017 in the Loreto Region, Peru. The results indicate that the textural information obtained from the RGB imagery combined with the canopy height model can identify important palm species like Mauritia flexuosa, Euterpe precatoria and Oenocarpus bataua with an overall accuracy of 86% using a support vector machine radial algorithm. However, since the UAV camera only takes pictures of the canopy, on average, only 80% of the referenced palm trees were identified, and understorey palms were often missed. The integration of field and UAV data has the potential of providing precise estimates of resource availability at scales relevant to forest management, especially where cloud cover limits the use of satellite imagery, and the large areas and accessibility restrict ground-based surveys.


Royal Geographic Society Annual International Conference, London, August 2019 Session: Amazonian geographies of the past and the future

Valuing Intact Tropical Peatlands                                                                                 

Luis Andueza

This paper presents an ongoing interdisciplinary project looking at the different forms of value associated to tropical peatlands in the Peruvian amazon. Localised relations to nature express the negotiation, clash, and/or convergence of different value regimes, most importantly: 1. Those emergent from these landscapes as inhabited places of meaning, identity, history and futurity, 2. those implied in the region’s role within the global market as a source of natural resource rents, and its associated infrastructures of extraction, 3. those associated to the place of these ecosystems in both national and global geographies of conservation. The presentation will illustrate this through a comparative examination of the cases of two Urarina communities, highlighting how these different regimes of value are locally navigated, reproduced, and/or contested through different socio-ecological, spatial, and cultural strategies.

Below is the original abstract submitted to this session:

Valuing intact tropical peatlands: an interdisciplinary challenge 

Katherine Roucoux (University of St Andrews, UK), Nina Laurie (University of St Andrews, UK), Althea Davies (University of St Andrews, UK), Ed Mitchard (University of Edinburgh, UK), Lydia Cole (University of St Andrews, UK), Luis Andueza (University of St Andrews, UK), Charlotte Wheeler (University of Edinburgh, UK), Anna Macphie (University of St Andrews, UK)

The large (35,000 km2) and intact peatlands recently described in Peruvian Amazonia are of global importance as they form significant long-term carbon stores and contribute to total Amazonian biodiversity; characteristics which provide strong justification for their protection. To succeed, conservation schemes must consider not only international and scientific, but also local priorities by engaging with the needs and values of communities living with peatlands. This interdisciplinary project aims to develop an understanding of the value and meaning of intact tropical peatlands to different groups (e.g. peatland communities, NGOs, government), how the peatlands are changing, and how they are vulnerable.


INQUA, Dublin, July 2019

People and peatlands in the Peruvian Amazon: an interdisciplinary research agenda

K.H. Roucoux, C. Schulz, L.E.S. Cole, L. Andueza, C. Wheeler, A. Macphie, A. Davies, N. Laurie, E.T.A. Mitchard, , M. M. Branas, C. Nunez Perez, I.T. Lawson

Interdisciplinary research by Quaternary palaeoecologists, ecologists, and social scientists has the potential to deepen our understanding of ecosystem function, stability and vulnerability in ways which are not possible for any one of these disciplines alone. This presentation will review the experiences and findings of the interdisciplinary work carried out recently by our research group to date, as we work on understanding the processes, dynamics and functioning of peatlands in Amazonia and attempt to ensure that our future research agenda on Amazon peatlands is useful, appropriate and culturally sensitive.

The peatlands of western Amazonia store a globally significant quantity of carbon and, in contrast to those of SE Asia, remain hydrologically intact. They harbour low, but unique, biodiversity and, like peatlands everywhere, preserve a palaeoecological archive of their own environmental history. Our palaeoecological work has shown that the peatlands are dynamic on centennial to millennial timescales and that the present day vegetation often only developed relatively recently. Our ecological research has demonstrated their importance as contributors to regional diversity and as stepping stones for dispersal between other biologically important habitats. We have shown that these peatlands are under threat from development of commercial agriculture and transport infrastructure, and from local resource exploitation. However, part of the picture has been missing from this research: the people who live in and around the peatlands.

The “Valuing intact tropical peatlands” project was a pilot study on the social, economic, and cultural values of peatlands in the Peruvian Amazon to complement existing scientific research on the carbon content, ecology, and formation of peatlands in the Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin, northern Peru. We worked closely with social scientists at the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana (IIAP) to conduct qualitative fieldwork in two Amazonian communities (one indigenous and one mestizo), which provided the first insights on people’s relationships with peatlands in the study area. The team conducted 51 interviews with local community members, two community-level participatory mapping workshops, and six site visits to peatlands guided by local people. The project successfully achieved its objective of cataloguing and mapping human activities in, and value of, peatlands in the region for the first time.
For the scientific research to contribute any positive impact to the region, the environment and its people, and in order to fully understand the functioning of these important ecosystems then future work must continue to incorporate people into the picture. Future projects will knit the social science and Quaternary palaeoecological and other scientific methods more closely together, for example, in establishing the extent and nature of peatland palm swamp degradation and engaging peatland communities in knowledge production.


British Ecological Society Annual Meeting, Belfast, Northern Ireland, December 2019

The peatlands of lowland Peru: the people’s heaven or their hell?                           

Lydia Cole, Charlotte Wheeler, Luis Andueza, Margarita del Águila Villacorta, Manuel Martín Brañas, Nállarett Dávila, Cecilia del Carmen Nuñez Perez, Euridice Honorio Coronado, Ian Lawson, Nina Laurie, Althea Davies, Ed Mitchard and Katy Roucoux

The tropical peatlands of Peru are mostly found within the subsiding Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin (PMFB) of the western Amazon. Their full geographical extent, role in global carbon cycling and suite of ecological and socio-ecological values are still largely unknown. Our Leverhulme Trust-funded project aims to address knowledge gaps on the ways that local people use and value the different types of wetlands present within the PMFB, in order to understand the local basis for protecting these globally important ecosystems. We will describe the initial findings from fieldwork conducted over four months in 2019, which explored the ecological diversity and cultural value of a set of peatland ecosystems within the PMFB of the Peruvian Amazon.


European Conference of Tropical Ecology, Brussels, February 2017

The contribution of palaeoecology to tropical peatland science

K.H. Roucoux

The importance of peatlands in the global carbon cycle is becoming increasingly appreciated, yet the focus so far has been overwhelmingly on temperate and boreal peatlands. Tropical peatlands are now also emerging as important carbon stores but they are much less well understood than their northern counterparts. Efforts to model peat accumulation and distribution in northern systems and, ultimately, incorporate them into dynamic earth system models, are now extending to tropical systems but are constrained our limited knowledge about low latitude peatlands, particularly those only recently described, e.g. in the Amazon and Congo basins. Key parameters such as water table variability, vegetation composition, productivity and decomposition rates, long-term rates of carbon accumulation, and sensitivity to climatic change and other disturbances, remain poorly known for the tropics. Some of these parameters will require concerted monitoring efforts while others require the long-term (decadal to millennial) perspective provided by palaeoecology which encompasses a wider range of variability than it is possible to capture using direct measurements alone. The role of palaeoecology in peatland science is particularly pertinent because of the ability of peatlands to record their own history in situ; using records in peat cores we can “coax history to conduct experiments”1. This presentation will review recent examples of the contribution palaeoecology can make to our understanding of the processes, dynamics and functioning of tropical peatlands. It will consider its specific contributions to improving models of peat accumulation and distribution, and discuss how the resulting improvements in understanding can inform conservation and management decisions in relation to these important and highly threatened ecosystems.

1Deevey, E.S. (1969) BioScience 19, 40-43.


European Conference of Tropical Ecology, Göttingen, February 2016

Long-term development of western Amazonian peatlands: patterns and processes

Katherine Roucoux, Ian Lawson, Timothy Jones, Thomas Kelly, Frederick Draper, Timothy Baker, Euridice Honorio Coronado

Extensive peatlands occur in western Amazonia, but their developmental history, vegetational characteristics, and carbon storage dynamics remain essentially unknown. Recently our group published a re-evaluation of the area and carbon stocks of peatlands in the Pastaza-Marañón basin, lowland Peru (Draper et al. 2014, Env. Res. Lett. 124017). Here we present some of our other recent findings on the present ecology, palaeoecology, geochemistry, and hydrology of these peatlands. Our ecological survey data include the first quantitative description of ‘dwarf pole forest’ occurring on ombrotrophic peat. Using pollen analysis, we documented the developmental history of one palm swamp, Quistococha, which has accumulated up to 4 m of peat since 2200 cal BP in an abandoned channel of the Amazon river. In outline, initial sedge fen and/or floating mat vegetation gave way to seasonally-flooded mixed woodland after 1900 cal BP; palms became more abundant after 1000 cal BP but vegetation similar to the present-day palm swamp forest has only been in place since 400 cal BP. However, in detail the vegetation succession was complex, with reversals, repetitions, and abrupt transitions. Comparison with other peatland sites in the region suggests that different trajectories of development can also occur. Changing flooding regimes probably drove some of the complexity, suggesting that the peatland was sensitive to external (possibly climatic) environmental variations. This sensitivity may be explained by hydraulic conductivity measurements which indicate that the woody peats at this and other sites in the region are very free-draining, and hence likely prone to desiccation during droughts. Geochemical analyses alongside the pollen data demonstrate that variations in peat properties relevant to carbon storage, including lignin content (linked to peat recalcitrance) and base cation abundances, depend partly on the initial botanical composition of the peat and partly on subsequent alteration. Palaeoecology, as a component of multidisciplinary research projects, is critical to our understanding of the past and future dynamics of these important carbon stores.