Human Impacts on Amazon Peatlands

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


Our research group has helped to show that large peatlands occur in western Amazonia, storing globally significant quantities of carbon. By contrast with peat swamp forests in much of SE Asia, the Amazonian peatlands are considered to be hydrologically intact. However, they are far from pristine wilderness, as local communities exploit peatland resources, e.g. palm fruit, medicinal plants, building materials and game. The specific nature, intensity and distribution of these peatland activities is not yet well understood and their impact on peatland ecosystem function is largely unknown. Existing studies, mainly on non-peat substrates in the region, suggest that widespread practices, such as felling palms to harvest fruit, have the potential to affect the biodiversity and carbon storage function of peatlands adversely.

This project aims to investigate the human uses of Amazonian tropical peatlands and identify their consequences for peatland ecosystem properties, focusing on vegetation composition and carbon storage. The project will focus on the largest known peatland complex in Amazonia, the Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin in Peru.

The project will make a significant contribution to our understanding of human impacts on peatland function, improving our ability to model these systems as part of the global carbon cycle, while also providing the socio-cultural knowledge essential to successful conservation and sustainable development schemes.

Understanding the effect of human activity on peatland ecosystem services is relevant to a range of policy commitments. The project impact plan will focus on Peru's Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to climate change mitigation under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and its contribution through its National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan to meeting the Aichi Biodiversity Targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity. The project will provide substantial contributions to the evidence base for implementation of multiple goals within these national commitments including, reduction of emissions through land use and land use change, reducing deforestation, increasing public understanding of the role of biodiversity in national development, and improving knowledge on sustainable use of ecosystems. There is further scope for applying our findings through the Global Peatlands Initiative, of which CASE partner WCMC is a member.

Objectives and methods
1) Catalogue and map human activities in, and value of, peatlands of the PMFB via participatory research design, participatory mapping, and focus groups with two communities.
2) Quantify peatland ecosystem properties (for example using, water table height and variability [dipwells, loggers]; litter/root inputs [litter traps, root in-growth cores]; vegetation composition and structure [plot-based vegetation census]) along spatial gradients of human impact.
3) Make down-core measurements of peat composition (biomarkers, plant macrofossils), carbon concentration, pattern/timing of changes in vegetation and carbon accumulation rate (pollen analysis, 14C and 210Pb dating).
4) Use these data to identify relationships between human activities and peatland function; implement the impact plan.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/R008531/1 01/10/2018 31/03/2023
2095236 Studentship NE/R008531/1 01/10/2018 15/02/2023 Anna MacPhie
NE/W502935/1 01/04/2021 31/03/2022
2095236 Studentship NE/W502935/1 01/10/2018 15/02/2023 Anna MacPhie