Peat’s worst enemy is….?

**Important, mega-quick survey alert**

Roxane Anderson (U. Highlands & Islands) and Richard Payne (U. York) are working on a project on Global Peatland threats. As part of the project, they are looking to gather responses from the peatland community around the world on what they consider to be the greatest threats to peatlands. They have designed a very short survey for that purpose and would like to distribute it as widely as possible.

The link for the survey is here: https://goo.gl/forms/4UpfwEJuLNejS4Hy1.

Your (anonymous) answers will contribute to a scientific paper that will be circulated widely when published (and we’ll try to get the authors to post a summary blog about it here!).

Please feel free to send the link onwards to your own networks.

Thank you for contributing to this important work.

 

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Calling all peaty Research Students & Young Professionals in need of $….

The Allan Robertson Grants for 2018 are now open!  (Closing date is 31st January.)

Allan Robertson

The Grant, administered by the International Peatland Society, was first launched in 2015 in memory of Allan Robertson, First Honorary President of the IPS.  It is awarded to research students carrying out practical work or research, or young professionals in the early stages of their career involved in peatland management or the peat industry.

This year, there will be approximately 8 grants of €500 available.  The deadline for applications is 31st January.  The application form, more details and information on previous winners (including some esteemed members of this group!) can be found here.

Grant recipients are normally under the age of 30. Undergraduates are ineligible. The grants can be used, for instance, for project work, for equipment, or for travelling.

Successful applicants must agree to provide a report on their project or work that will be published in the IPS magazine Peatlands International and/or give a presentation of it at an international IPS event at the latest 12 months after the grant funding has been paid to them. Payment will be made by bank transfer according to receipts.

The Executive Board of the IPS will decide on the winners in April and announce the lucky ones at the Annual Assembly in Rotterdam in September (no need to be present).

Peat @ the EGU

Several of the UK TPWG members attended the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly in Vienna last week, and Sarah Cook has kindly provided a brief summary of this exciting, and pleasingly peaty event.

Last month I attended the European Geosciences Union in Vienna, Austria. The conference was a buzz of scientific minds with over 14,000 participants in attendance from over 107 different countries! This was my first time at the EGU, which was both exiting but also overwhelming at times, with over 649 sessions running throughout the week, 4,000+ talks and 11,000+ posters, deciding how to spend each day was a challenge in itself! Luckily, the EGU app came in really handy allowing me to create my own personalized timetable, whilst helping reduce paper consumption. Furthermore, the venue came stock pilled with coffee outlets and even its own beer garden to ensure a much needed recharge between sessions.

Still “Welcome” in Europe!

One of my favorite sessions was ‘Peatlands and wetlands in the tropics and beyond’ co-conveyed by our very own Ian Lawson. The session attracted significant interest and covered topics from greenhouse gas emissions and eco-hydrology to the responsible management of tropical peatlands. It was great to see so much enthusiasm for tropical peat research from all breadths of the scientific community. I was also fortunate enough to present a poster on my PhD research, on the Friday afternoon, and had some great feedback and comments.

A new presentation format, which I had never come across before, was PICO’s (Presenting Interactive Content). This gave speakers a 2-minute opportunity to advertise their research, after which people could visit their PICO stand to ask more questions and interact with the slides further. The venue was also host to outreach talks and debates including ‘Women in geoscience’ and ‘Is open science the way to go?’ However, while the conference offered a non-stop array of sessions to attend I did try to see more than just the conference center and explore the beautiful city. All in all I had a great first experience at the EGU and can’t wait to go back again!

 

 

 

 

 

Panamanian peats

In order to understand and appreciate the breadth and importance of the fieldwork carried out by members of the UK Tropical Peatland Working Group, we welcome posts on this blog from anyone with a story to tell.  Here, Nick Girkin, a PhD student from the University of Nottingham, describes the fieldwork he carried out last year in the relatively understudied peatlands of Panama.

In January 2016 I started the second stage of my fieldwork in San San Pond Sak wetland in Bocas del Toro Province, Panama. During my first visit in 2015 I trialled a range of fieldwork techniques investigating how below-ground plant inputs, particularly plant roots and root release of exudates and oxygen, can regulate surface greenhouse gas emissions and the extent to which this differs between plants of contrasting physiologies (i.e. palms vs broadleaved evergreen trees). This time I had developed a range of experimental approaches including plans for in situ mesocosms to exclude roots and root inputs, phloem labelling with natural abundance and 13C labels and a 13CO2 labelling experiment. The results of this work are important in terms of broadening our understanding of how regulation of greenhouse gas emissions may differ between different plant groups, with implications across forested peatland ecosystems.

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Access to San San Pond Sak Wetland

The site itself is dominated by two plant species: Campnosperma panamensis, a broadleaved evergreen tree, and Raphia taedigera, a palm, and I aimed to assess whether differences in greenhouse gas fluxes between these species previously observed could be linked to differences in below ground release of root exudates, oxygen and decaying root material.

During both field campaigns I was based at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute research station on Isla Colon, a short boat ride away from my field sites on the mainland. On sampling days I, together with Erick Brown my field guide, would take a boat across the short stretch of the Caribbean to reach the wetland, before a short 1 km trek through the swamp forest to the field sites. The first week was particularly long and laborious, involving clearing a trail to the field site, making and then installing mesocosms into the soil. The average day of fieldwork involved collecting surface gas samples from the mesocosms and measuring a range of soil properties known to regulate gas fluxes (e.g. the height of the water table). CO2 and CH4 fluxes from these sites broadly match those measured in South East Asian Peatlands (400 – 800 mg CO2 m2 h-1 and 0.1 – 2 mg CH4 m2 h-1).

Work at the station involved tending to transplanted Campnosperma, Raphia and Symphonia globulifera saplings which towards the end of my fieldwork I labelled with 13CO2 with the aim of tracing recent photoassimilates into plant tissues, the soil microbial community and the production of CH4 through microbial use of plant derived carbon.

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Reaching field sites in San San Pond Sak

Congratulations Dr Freddie Draper

 

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Congratulations to Freddie Draper who passed his viva on Friday with flying colours. Freddie’s thesis examined the modern and long-term ecology of Amazonian peatlands using a combination of permanent forest plots and pollen analysis of peat cores. By increasing the number of peatlands measured and through combining different remote sensing products, his work has also led to a more refined estimate of the size and distribution of peatland carbon stocks in northeast Peru, following on from work conducted by Outi Lahteenoja at the University of Turku.

Freddie published his study on carbon stocks in Peruvian peatlands last year, and it has already led to a $6 million investment from the Green Climate Fund which will support peatland conservation efforts. In recognition of this, Freddie was recently made postgraduate researcher of the year 2015.

Since handing in his thesis Freddie has been back into the field (above) to help with a project led by Dr Sophie Fauset examining light levels in the Atlantic forests of Brazil. Freddie will also be heading back to Peru in January to work on Amazonian peatlands and their conservation with researchers at the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana, amongst others. Well done Freddie and good luck with your future exploits!

C-PEAT update

A brief report from Lydia Cole on the recent C-PEAT meeting convened at Columbia University in New York.

About a month ago, from the 11th to 13th October, 52 scientists met at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York, to discuss peat.  The meeting was convened by Zicheng Yu from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, who was responsible for garnering support for this working group of PAGES.  The newly fledged C-PEAT, Carbon in Peat on EArth through Time, aims to bring together peat scientists from across the world and from a range of disciplines, to answer questions about how carbon in peatlands has changed throughout the past and how it might vary into the future.  I was fortunate enough to attend the meeting, along with Ian Lawson and various others that have or are still working with the UKTPWG, including Outi Lähteenoja.  Here is a brief report of the meeting.

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The meeting crew, getting the C-PEAT ball rolling.

The main questions that led discussions during the workshop were:

  • Why is there peat?
  • How much and how fast can peats accumulate?
  • What will happen to peat in the future?

By the end of the three days, I think we were closer to knowing more clearly about what we don’t know, than to actually answering these questions!  But we exchanged a huge amount of new information in the process, some of which I’ve reported on below, under each question.

Why is there peat?

We spent one break-out session seeing if we could provide new insights into what the critical controls on peat formation might be.  After learning from the talks about the huge range of peatlands present today and during the past, from the diverse forested swamps of Papua New Guinea, to the high-altitude Andean ‘cushion’ peats, to the organic-rich sediments buried under glacial tills in Canada, all with their differing physical parameters, this proved challenging.  As did attempts at making generalisations about peat formation through time; time being hundreds of millions of years.  One scientist aptly commented that “coal is carbon; peat is water”, which helps to explain part of the picture!  There were a number of discussions about deep-time peats and coal, and whether we could make inferences on their development dynamics based on more recent peat formations.  A work in progress (by the Deep-time and Buried Peats Thematic Groups).

How much and how fast can peats accumulate?

What are the differences/similarities in peat accumulation rates along different temporal and spatial gradients?  Answers on a postcard please.  In a very interesting presentation, René Dommain, Smithsonian Institute, presented on tip-up pools in tropical peatland ecosystems and the importance of considering them when interpreting age-depth modelling and peat accumulation dynamics.  Rene’s fieldwork focused on the coastal peat domes of Brunei, but some other spectacular and more unexpected domes and craters were brought to everyone’s attention:

*Numbers not verified – may have passed through multiple Chinese whispers.

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Breakfast chats (about peat?!) in the sunshine, at the Lamont-Doherty campus of Columbia University.

What will happen to peat in the future?

Where will new peat formations arise?  Where will peats disappear?  And where will they persist?

Will bogs persist with greater frequency than fens?  Nigel Roulet, McGill University, presented on the greater resilience of bogs compared to fens, with bogs maintaining hydrological independence from the surrounding environment and therefore being more able to resist the potential impacts of climate change.  Jeff Chanton, Florida State University, talked about the SPRUCE mega-project he’s involved with, in the Marcell Experimental Forest in Northern Minnesota, which is attempting to monitor how temperate peatlands respond to changes in climate.  Watch this space for the release of the experiment’s findings.

Ian Lawson, University of St. Andrews (and key member of the UKTPWG), presented on what we know about the tropical lowland peatlands of the Peruvian Amazon.  He also talked about the threats to their persistence, one of which was an unlikely suspect: aboveground carbon maps, which demonstrate the relatively lower standing carbon stocks in peatland areas compared to in terra firme forests, and fail to illustrate their rich belowground carbon store.  Ian highlighted the danger of these maps being used in land use decision-making in Peru, potentially erroneously directing forest conversion to these carbon rich areas.  And these peatlands don’t have the emotive conservation pin-up that their Southeast Asian relatives have.

Steve Frolking, University of New Hampshire, presented an analysis on carbon losses from tropical peatlands under different land use change scenarios into the next 50 years.  An interesting desk-based exercise that warns of the strong emissions legacy of the peatland management practices that are pervasive across much of Southeast Asia now.

One major area of peatland that we still know so little about was sadly not represented at the meeting: the peat swamps of Central Africa.  Perhaps that gap can be filled by members of this group at the next meeting.  There was also a distinct lack of anyone named Pete there.

As we move into the Anthropeatscene (!), we need to consider exactly what and where the threats to peatland persistence are.  And what the opportunities are for peatland conservation.  I’m sure everyone is aware of the fires that have been raging in Indonesian peatlands over the last few months (if not, look at this and this previous post), exacerbated to a great degree by unsustainable peatland management.  One big question the workshop considered was: what unique contribution can C-PEAT make as a group to peatland science and conservation, in both the tropical and temperate zone?

If you have the answer, or indeed any answers to the questions above….or are working on them, do join the C-PEAT mailing list by signing up here.

 

Congratulations Prof. Sue Page

Sue Page awardThe UK-TPWG is proud to announce that Sue Page has been awarded the Theodore M. Sperry Award by the Society for Ecological Restoration. Established in 1994, the award is presented to “individuals that have made a significant contribution to the science and/or practice of ecological restoration.” Sue has been committed to studying and conserving tropical peatlands for many years, and we in the UK-TPWG are pleased that she has been honoured in this way. Well done Sue for all the hard work!

European Conference of Tropical (partly peaty) Ecology coming up….

Time to register for the European Conference of Tropical Ecology (the annual meeting of the GTOE), this year to be held in Gottingen, Germany, from 23rd  to 26th February 2016.  Several of the group will be there, with Prof. Sue Page giving a key note talk and Dr Katy Roucoux chairing Session 14 (summary pasted below), which will showcase tropical peatlands.  Abstracts should be submitted by 15th October, and there’s more info about registration, etc. here.

Session 14: Past, present and future of tropical (wetland) ecosystems

Chair: Hermann Behling, Katherine Roucoux, Siria Biagioni
Contact: Hermann.Behling@biologie.uni-goettingen.de

Wetlands and peatlands cover large areas of the tropics, make an important contribution to regional biodiversity, host large below-ground carbon stores, provide valuable ecosystem services, and are a source of natural resources. Our knowledge of these complex ecosystems and their temporal dynamics remains far from complete. The aim of this session is to provide an interdisciplinary forum for researchers working on tropical wetlands and peatlands at a range of different timescales and using a range of different approaches. Ecological research on natural and anthropogenic processes in tropical ecosystems is often focused on present-day states, investigating a time interval in which species live under essentially unchanging ecological and climatic conditions. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that a thorough understanding of present-day ecosystems requires a longer-term perspective. For example, the mechanisms responsible for current trajectories of change in forest community composition; the geographical variation of biodiversity; the process of plant community assembly; the role of ecohydrological self-organization in sustaining peat accumulation; and the extent of early anthropogenic impacts in the tropics, are all topics which would benefit from a fuller understanding of the historical development of ecosystems. A long-term perspective on topics such as the resilience of below-ground carbon storage is also vital if we are to contribute to predicting future scenarios of climatic and environmental change on regional and global scales. The session welcomes contributions from palaeoecology (typically millennial to centennial timescales), modern ecology (present-day and long-term monitoring), and ecosystem modelling (projections of future change), especially where an interdisciplinary approach is taken. Studies using innovative methodologies, for example for integrating spatial and temporal analyses through remote-sensing, will be particularly welcome. Although our primary focus is on wetlands, because lakes and peats provide excellent potential for palaeoecological research, contributions relating to the long-term dynamics of other tropical ecosystems will also be very welcome.

Congratulations, DR Tom Kelly!

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Tom Kelly passed his PhD viva at the University of Leeds, with well-deserved commendations from his examiners Rob Marchant (University of York) and David Galbraith (Leeds). His supervisors (Ian Lawson, Katy Roucoux and Tim Baker) are very proud!

Tom has already led or contributed to several papers through his research, and we look forward to seeing several more emerge over the next few months.