Threats to intact tropical peatlands and opportunities for their conservation

K. H. Roucoux, I. T. Lawson, T. R. Baker, D. Del Castillo Torres, F. C. Draper, O. Lähteenoja, M. P. Gilmore, E. N. Honorio Coronado, T. J. Kelly, E. T. A. Mitchard, C. Vriesendorp

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Large, intact areas of tropical peatland are highly threatened at a global scale by the expansion of commercial agriculture and other forms of economic development. Conserving peatlands on a landscape scale, with their hydrology intact, is of international conservation importance to preserve their distinctive biodiversity and ecosystem services, and maintain their resilience to future environmental change. Here, we explore the threats and opportunities for conserving remaining intact tropical peatlands. Our focus therefore largely excludes the peatlands of Indonesia and Malaysia, where extensive deforestation, drainage and conversion to plantation of peat swamp forests over the last few decades means that conservation efforts in this region are reduced to protecting small fragments of the original ecosystem, attempting to restore drained peatlands, or dissuading companies from expanding existing plantations. In contrast, here we focus on a case study, the Pastaza-Marañón Foreland Basin (PMFB) in Peru, which is among the largest known intact tropical peatland landscapes in the world and representative of their vulnerability. Maintenance of the hydrological conditions critical for carbon storage and ecosystem function of peatlands is, in the PMFB, primarily threatened by expansion of commercial agriculture linked to new transport infrastructure that is facilitating access to remote areas. In contrast to Indonesia and Malaysia, there remain opportunities in the PMFB and elsewhere to develop alternative, more sustainable land-use practices. Although some of the peatlands in the PMFB fall within existing legally protected areas, this protection is patchy, weak and not focused on protecting the most carbon-dense areas. New carbon-based conservation funding, developing markets for sustainable peatland products, transferring land title to local communities, and expanding protected areas offer pathways to increased protection for intact tropical peatlands in Amazonia and elsewhere, such as those in New Guinea and Central Africa which remain, for the moment, broadly beyond the frontier of commercial development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1283-1292
Number of pages10
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number6
Early online date10 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • Tropics
  • Amazonia
  • Peru
  • Peatland
  • Peat
  • Carbon
  • Conservation


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