Conference presentations

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


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.