Past and present spatial patterning in the peat swamp forests of the central Congo Basin

Funding Body: NERC

Project Duration: 3.5 years, 09/2019 – 07/2023

Project Overview:

This PhD is part of a much larger NERC-funded project, CongoPeat, whose aim is to investigate the past, present and future of these newly-discovered peat swamp forests found in the Congo Basin. More specifically, this PhD falls under the first work package, which aims to “understand the genesis, development and maintenance of peatland complex”, and focuses on the spatial palaeoecology of the peat swamp forests that reside within the central Congo Basin.

Congolese peatlands are severely understudied, thus any new palaeoecological information can provide valuable insights into how these peatlands may have formed in the past. By using multiple cores from multiple transects – with each transect traversing a different area of the peatland complex – we will investigate how these peatlands have laterally developed over time and determine whether any spatial variability exists between sites. Various ecological and sedimentary proxies have been carefully selected, primarily pollen, charcoal, inorganic geochemistry and loss-on-ignition. New information on the spatial development of these peatlands will help contextualise high-resolution work from the centre of each field site – conducted by a post-doctoral research fellow on the same project – which, together, will provide a detailed account of how these peatlands have developed over both space and time.

Another fundamental aspect of this project is to investigate the relationships between sediments and various modern environments found within the peat swamp forests of the Congo Basin. Once identified, these relationships will aid the interpretation of down core data, thus making any new findings more robust. Samples will be selected from various environments, ranging from open water and floating mat vegetation to hardwood/palm-dominated swamp forest.

Project Aims:

  1. Improve our understanding of the spatial development of Congolese peatlands.
  2. Investigate whether any significant relationships exist between sediments and modern environments in the Congo Basin.
  3. Determine whether the current spatial patterning of vegetation on the peatland surface reflects the succession of peatland vegetation through time.

Team Members:

Name Role Affiliation/Institute
George Biddulph Principle Investigator, PhD student University of St Andrews
Ian Lawson Lead supervisor University of St. Andrews
Katy Roucoux Secondary supervisor University of St. Andrews
Professor Simon Lewis External supervisor University of Leeds

Project Partners: University of St. Andrews, CongoPeat Consortium

Contact Information: George Biddulph ([email protected])