University of Cambridge > > Department of Geography - main Departmental seminar series >  “Swamped! The trials and tribulations of tropical peatland science”

“Swamped! The trials and tribulations of tropical peatland science”

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Peatlands are important terrestrial carbon stores and vital components of global carbon soil-atmosphere exchange processes. In this regard, tropical peatlands are important because they are some of the planet’s most carbon-dense ecosystems. Knowledge of the extent of tropical peatlands across the globe is still uncertain, nevertheless there is growing recognition of their significance for biodiversity support, carbon storage, climate mitigation and other ecosystem services and of the ecological and biogeochemical consequences of land use change. In Southeast Asia, where the largest area of tropical peatland is located, there is almost no intact peat swamp forest remaining.

Over the last two decades, rapid socio-economic development has been accompanied by the transformation of vast areas into plantations producing palm oil and pulpwood, while remnant fragments of forested peatland have been degraded by logging, drainage and fire. Simultaneous with these developments, scientific knowledge of the consequences of peatland development has strengthened, providing a narrative that links the deforestation and drainage of peatlands to: loss of carbon storage potential; high emissions of greenhouse gases; increased risk of fire, resulting in extreme air pollution episodes that adversely impact on human health and economic activity; increased risk of flooding; loss of habitat for vulnerable, rare and endemic species; and reduced human livelihood opportunities. My talk will review this scientific narrative using examples from my own research journey to explore the disjunct between those promoting the benefits of short-term socio-economic development against those advocating for longer-term maintenance of ecosystem resilience.

It concludes by outlining recent opportunities for improved peatland management practices that attempt to integrate scientific, land use practice and policy aspirations to mitigate negative ecological and economic consequences of peatland development.

This talk is part of the Department of Geography - main Departmental seminar series series.

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