Peatland resilience: Knowledge exchange for the conservation and sustainable management of forested tropical peatlands

Lead Research Organisation: University of St Andrews
Department Name: Geography and Sustainable Development

Abstract

Tropical peatlands are one of our planet's most important, and most vulnerable, terrestrial carbon pools, storing over 100 billion tonnes of carbon. They provide ecosystem services and livelihoods for local communities. However, their large carbon stores and unique biodiversity are threatened by human pressures. In Southeast Asia, peatland destruction on a very large scale has been driven by drainage and conversion into oil palm and forestry plantations, while more intact peatlands in the Amazon and Congo basins are currently threatened by the expansion of commercial agriculture and new infrastructure development. Ecological and social studies have demonstrated that avoiding drainage and land use change in peatlands can conserve carbon stocks and mitigate the potentially significant releases of greenhouse gases, while, simultaneously, conservation and sustainable management can help to ensure the provision of products and services to local inhabitants who depend culturally and socioeconomically on peatlands. However, more effective dialogue and long-term relationships are needed between scientists and policymakers to ensure the use of scientific knowledge in public policy and to develop innovative funding strategies for conservation and reduction of carbon emissions due to peatland degradation and deforestation.

Over the last decade, NERC-funded research based on collaborations among institutions in the UK, Amazonia and the Congo basin, has provided scientific evidence on the distribution of tropical peatlands, their unique biodiversity, and the quantity of carbon stored above and below ground. The most extensive peatlands of Amazonia are in Peru; these forested peatlands contain more than twice the carbon stocks of UK peatlands. Permanent forest census plots have been established following standard international protocols to monitor the forest dynamics and peatland resilience in the face of climate change. These data also provide information on the abundance of resources and 'health status' of natural forests that can be used to improve management plans for resource harvesting (e.g. harvest intensity). However, these high-quality peatland inventory and monitoring data are poorly integrated within policy making. Therefore, this KE fellowship aims to build on the unique network of partnerships developed by the applicant with stakeholders and users in Peru to translate ecological and social scientific knowledge on tropical peatlands generated by UK universities into policies and strategies to conserve and manage peatlands sustainably, and expand the reach of the impact across the tropics.

Working with a range of organisations including Peru's Ministry of Environment and National Service of Protected Areas, the project will undertake activities designed to integrate existing scientific data into governmental decision-taking and policy development; develop and test new protocols to facilitate monitoring of peatland ecosystems by government and private companies; and exchange knowledge and understanding with stakeholders and end-users in other peat-rich tropical countries.

Publications

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