Enhancing the benefits of tropical peatland restoration for supporting local communities and ecosystem processes.

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Biology

Abstract

There is a requirement to feed a rapidly growing human population whilst maintaining ecosystem services and reducing biodiversity losses. Across the world, previously extensive tracts of natural habitats have been degraded by human activities, with detrimental impacts for biodiversity and soils, and for the livelihoods of local communities living in these landscapes. Indonesia's forests are extremely biologically diverse but this hyper-diversity is threatened due to widespread loss of rainforest.

Peat swamp forests contain particularly large stores of carbon and support unique flora and fauna not occurring elsewhere, but have been drained and degraded to make way for agriculture, threatening wildlife and releasing large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere from loss of trees and soil. Much of this recent forest loss is due to conversion to oil palm plantations, which provide important sources of local incomes, although drained peatlands produce many ecosystem disservices (e.g. bare land and soil with low/no agricultural value, poor air quality). Thus there are moves to rehabilitate degraded peatlands with a focus on reducing emissions, but potential co-benefits (and risks) of restoration for biodiversity and consequences for local communities whose livelihoods are dependent on agriculture are not well understood.

The aim of this project is to understand the consequences of draining peatlands for biodiversity and local livelihoods, and to examine different scenarios for prioritising peatlands for restoration, according to biodiversity and emissions considerations and local community benefits and trade-offs.

Restoration of degraded peat forest and re-wetting of drained areas may remove agricultural areas from production thereby reducing small holder farmer incomes and food. Moreover, decisions about sites to restore need to be compatible with systems of local governance, land rights and devolved administrations, and require the identification of alternative livelihood options for communities in restored habitats. The size and degree of connectivity of forest areas is also important for maintaining population networks of species in degraded landscapes, and for promoting the responses of biodiversity to climate change, and so decisions about peatland locations for restoration also need to include consideration of connectivity and adaptation of species to climate change.

The issues we will address in this multi-disciplinary project will have a direct impact on local communities living in Indonesian peatland landscapes but the wider issues of balancing environmental, biodiversity and local community needs in multi-functional landscapes will be of broad generic importance.

Planned Impact

WHO WILL BENEFIT FROM THE RESEARCH AND HOW:
Peat forests contain unique and poorly understood biodiversity and store vast amounts of carbon, but large areas have been degraded and drained for logging and agriculture and remaining areas are at risk from continued agricultural expansion. Restoration of peatlands is being proposed as an effective way to mitigate carbon emissions from degraded peatlands and to restore the natural species community, and such activities could be implemented by a range of stakeholders including government wishing to meet emissions targets and tackle fires and haze, the oil palm industry and other commodity sectors that need to comply with certification standards, and environmental NGOs aiming to restore habitat and connectivity for endangered species. The following key outputs from our research will be directly relevant to decision making for better land-use planning in peat dominated landscapes.
1) Mapping of fragmentation, connectivity and emissions risk of peatlands in Sumatra.
2) New data and insight into peatland biodiversity and species responses to degradation and restoration
3) Understanding and incorporating the needs of local communities and the benefits/ dis-benefits of peat restoration projects on livelihoods and wellbeing
4) Priority areas for restoration which consider carbon, biodiversity, connectivity and communities.

KEY BENEFICIARIES AND HOW THEY WILL USE THE RESEARCH:
Local communities- Local communities are most affected by changes in our study system and by the potential impact of our findings and recommendations. Improved land planning which incorporates the needs of local communities as well as environmental considerations. will help to secure livelihoods and improve wellbeing through increased water, soil and air quality (especially linked to haze associated with fires)
ASEAN governments- Many ASEAN governments have commitments to meet Aichi targets and CBD commitments and to safeguard their natural resources and assets and this research will aid land planning to target areas for restoration and protection that will have the greatest benefits for environment and society.

Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)-The voluntary certification standard for sustainably produced palm oil has more than 2500 members including some of the world's largest oil palm growers, and international consumer goods companies. The standard aims to minimise the environmental impact of the palm oil industry and will benefit from knowledge to inform their policies on land-use planning, placement and rehabilitation of conservation set asides, and management of existing oil palm plantations on peatlands to minimise negative environmental impacts and avoid fires.

Oil palm companies- RSPO member companies are required to avoid clearance and degradation of peatlands and to maintain and enhance High Conservation Value forest set asides within their concession areas. Additionally, companies are required to remediate and compensate for past non-compliance with certification standards, and restoration projects could be an effective option for meet this requirement. Our research will inform better land planning and management in peat dominated regions.

NGOs- Local and international NGOs concerned with protecting, managing and restoring forests, reducing carbon emissions/ mitigating climate change and conserving biodiversity, and improving livelihoods and wellbeing of communities in Indonesia and the SE Asian region will benefit from new biodiversity information for peatlands, bottlenecks for species dispersal, and priority areas for conservation efforts that will be identified by the project.
 
Description The loss of huge areas of peat swamp forest in Southeast Asia and the resulting negative environmental effects, both local and global, have led to an increasing interest in peat restoration in the region. Our project has had three main conclusions:

1. Satellite remote sensing offers the potential to provide up-to-date information on peat forest loss at a large scale, and support spatially explicit conservation and restoration planning. Fusion of optical and radar remote sensing data may be particularly valuable in this context, as most peat swamp forests are located in areas with high cloud cover, which limits the use of optical data. Our results show that all three fusion methods increase overall accuracy compared to the use of a single data source. Object-level fusion outperformed the other two methods in terms of overall accuracy, and produced a more homogenous map, with less detail but reduced speckle. We believe our findings can guide future efforts to harness the synergistic information provided by optical and radar sensors, and provide recommendations to help conservationists to capitalise on the potential of big data.

2. The multitemporal dimension that satellite data now offer is often neglected because tropical areas are primarily characterized by relatively low levels of seasonality and because the consideration of multitemporal data requires more processing time. 3. Our study demonstrates that preserving the temporal information provided by satellite image time series can significantly improve land cover classifications in tropical biodiversity hotspots, improving our capacity to monitor ecosystems of high conservation relevance such as peatlands. The proposed method is reproducible, automated and based on open-source tools satellite imagery.

3. Ecological restoration is considered to play an important role in mitigating climate change, protecting biodiversity and preventing environmental degradation. Yet, there are often multiple perspectives on what outcomes restoration should be aiming to achieve, and how we should get to that point. Our interviews of a range of policy makers, academics and NGO representatives explored the range of perspectives on the restoration of Indonesia's tropical peatlands, and our results exemplified how ecological restoration can mean different things to different people, but also highlighted important areas of consensus for moving forward with peatland restoration strategies.
Exploitation Route Findings could be used by Government agencies, land planners, academics and conservationist who can use our findings and development of new methods to better map land-use and changes in land-use from space. Information about these new methods can also be used to develop improved land-cover maps which can help guide habitat restoration.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

 
Description Stakeholder workshop in Indonesia
Geographic Reach Asia 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Rainforest Trust project 
Organisation South East Asia Rainforest Research Programme (SEARRP)
Country Malaysia 
Sector Multiple 
PI Contribution Information on biodiversity in forest areas across Sabah (Borneo), and modelling of connectivity and prioritisation for improved conservation.
Collaborator Contribution Information on biodiversity, carbon storage and plant functional traits across Borneo.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2017
 
Description Rainforest Trust project 
Organisation University of Aberdeen
Department Business School
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Information on biodiversity in forest areas across Sabah (Borneo), and modelling of connectivity and prioritisation for improved conservation.
Collaborator Contribution Information on biodiversity, carbon storage and plant functional traits across Borneo.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2017
 
Description Rainforest Trust project 
Organisation University of Montana
Department Marine Sciences
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Information on biodiversity in forest areas across Sabah (Borneo), and modelling of connectivity and prioritisation for improved conservation.
Collaborator Contribution Information on biodiversity, carbon storage and plant functional traits across Borneo.
Impact None yet
Start Year 2017
 
Description ATBC Merida 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Conference presentation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Efforts' symposium, Bali, Indonesia; invited speaker 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Discussion of sustainability of palm oil cultivation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Interview in the Times newspaper about attitudes to palm oil consumption 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Article written in The Times newspaper, after interviewing me, on the sustainability of palm oil.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Radio 5live! interview on palm oil 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview and discussion of issues around palm oil sustainability.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Radio interview for BBC World Service 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Discussion for 'More or Less' radio program about rain forest connectivity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Unifying Tropical Ecology' BES/GTÖ symposium, Edinburgh, invited speaker 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Discussion of tropical biodiversity changes
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019