Retreating from peat!

A degraded tropical peatland in Borneo, with an approximately five year old oil palm plantation in the distance.

A deforested and drained tropical peatland in Borneo, with an approximately five year old oil palm plantation in the distance.

(I also just published this on the UK Tropical Peatland Working Group website.  Worth a quick gander!)

Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) has decided to ‘immediately retire’ approximately 7,000 hectares of its acacia plantations in Indonesia, with the goal of restoring them to intact peat swamp forest and developing a peatland best management practice model.  This is a bold move, forfeiting profits to comply with their Forest Conservation Policy (FCP).  Just over a year ago, they proved to be conservation forerunners again, (loudly) announcing to ‘protect and restore’ one million hectares of forest.  These come as welcome actions from APP, after it spent many years (and still is?) leading the deforestation frontier across Sumatra and Kalimantan, replacing hugely diverse ecosystems with monoculture plantations, and draining many a peatland along the way.

As Wetlands International say, there’s still a long way to go before APP can claim to be conserving, rather than destroying peatlands.  For example, how do they plan to rewet the peatlands?  What species are they going to plant into the current monocultures, and when?  How will they manage fire risk (heightened this year by ENSO) and potential flooding?   What will be the likely carbon emissions under different restoration strategies?  These are all important questions that researchers can help to answer.  Members of the UK Tropical Peatland Working Group are certainly on the case (watch this space).

But APP have given us a goal to hold them accountable to….and we must.

More information on the restoration mission from Deltares, APP’s independent peat expert team, can be found here.

Exploring recovery rates in tropical forests

After one near-missed flight (trying to correct the proof in time for the deadline in an airport flying between islands whilst peat spotting in Indonesia), several near sleepless nights (correcting previous drafts) and three attempts to download free-trial software (for last minute figure alterations whilst >1000 miles away from a computer that had the software on)….I was relieved to have my first paper published earlier this year.  And excited to have Cole associated, in print, with tropical forests, at long last.  The paper describes some research I did as part of my PhD, exploring the rates of tropical forest recovery after different disturbance events in the past.  Many a fossil pollen diagram was trawled to collect the data and we found some interesting results of relevance to the debate on tropical forest resilience.

Back in June, I had the privilege of writing a post on this research and our findings for the Kew Science Blog and to make a cameo appearance on Phil Martin’s Ecology for a crowded planet website, so if  you’d like to read more about the work, have a click (one’s enough – bit of a cut-and-paste job!).  Soon after, to my delight, the great Professor Corey Bradshaw wrote a bit about the research on his ConservationBytes blog.

As a first exploration of the vast data stored in published palaeoecological studies of tropical forest ecosystems, I was pleased with the insights I gleaned, but there’s a lot more potential locked up in these fossil pollen datasets.  I’ve got a long list of questions ready to start researching….as soon as a philanthropist with a tropical forest leaning gets word of the opportunity!