Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Risks to carbon storage from land-use change revealed by peat thickness maps of Peru

Abstract

Tropical peatlands are among the most carbon-dense ecosystems but land-use change has led to the loss of large peatland areas, associated with substantial greenhouse gas emissions. To design effective conservation and restoration policies, maps of the location and carbon storage of tropical peatlands are vital. This is especially so in countries such as Peru where the distribution of its large, hydrologically intact peatlands is poorly known. Here field and remote sensing data support the model development of peatland extent and thickness for lowland Peruvian Amazonia. We estimate a peatland area of 62,714 km2 (5th and 95th confidence interval percentiles of 58,325 and 67,102 km2, respectively) and carbon stock of 5.4 (2.6–10.6) PgC, a value approaching the entire above-ground carbon stock of Peru but contained within just 5% of its land area. Combining the map of peatland extent with national land-cover data we reveal small but growing areas of deforestation and associated CO2 emissions from peat decomposition due to conversion to mining, urban areas and agriculture. The emissions from peatland areas classified as forest in 2000 represent 1–4% of Peruvian CO2 forest emissions between 2000 and 2016. We suggest that bespoke monitoring, protection and sustainable management of tropical peatlands are required to avoid further degradation and CO2 emissions.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Distribution of the 1,128 ground reference points (GRPs) sampled for peat thickness and vegetation type data used in this study.
Fig. 2: Distribution of peat thickness.
Fig. 3: Distribution of peatlands classified as natural vegetation, secondary vegetation and deforestation based on the 2016 forest land and land-use categories within Geobosques42 in LPA.

Data availability

An interactive map of modelled peatland extent (50 m resolution) can be viewed at https://code.earthengine.google.com/a07b25e62adbe714afa77e4a3e423b1b and the source map downloaded at https://datashare.ed.ac.uk/handle/10283/4364. An interactive map of the modelled land-cover class (50 m resolution) can be viewed at https://code.earthengine.google.com/f3a655bbf36db6121be1d7fd09991530 and the source map downloaded from https://datashare.ed.ac.uk/handle/10283/4364. An interactive map of the modelled peat thickness distribution (100 m resolution) can be viewed at https://code.earthengine.google.com/8845760a7e086df8b1e66075985ea705 and the source maps downloaded from https://datashare.ed.ac.uk/handle/10283/4364. An interactive map of the modelled PC (100 m resolution) can be viewed at https://code.earthengine.google.com/394ed8b119c1913f7c5f5b6a969ec19f and the source maps downloaded from https://datashare.ed.ac.uk/handle/10283/4364. The MINAM Geobosques42 raster file can be downloaded from https://geobosques.minam.gob.pe/geobosque/view/descargas.php?122345gxxe345w34gg.

Code availability

The Google Earth Engine links include code for some basic analysis of the maps. Code for other parts of the analysis will be made available upon reasonable request to the corresponding author.

References

  1. Dommain, R., Couwenberg, J. & Joosten, H. Development and carbon sequestration of tropical peat domes in south-east Asia: links to post-glacial sea-level changes and Holocene climate variability. Quat. Sci. Rev. 30, 999–1010 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Draper, F. C. et al. The distribution and amount of carbon in the largest peatland complex in Amazonia. Environ. Res. Lett. 9, 124017 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Dargie, G. C. et al. Age, extent and carbon storage of the central Congo Basin peatland complex. Nature 542, 86–90 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Ribeiro, K. et al. Tropical peatlands and their contribution to the global carbon cycle and climate change. Glob. Change Biol. 27, 489–505 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Wang, S., Zhuang, Q., Lähteenoja, O., Draper, F. C. & Cadillo-Quiroz, H. Potential shift from a carbon sink to a source in Amazonian peatlands under a changing climate. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 115, 12407–12412 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Hiraishi, T. et al. 2013 Supplement to the 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories: Wetlands (IPCC, 2014).

  7. van Lent, J., Hergoualc’h, K., Verchot, L., Oenema, O. & van Groenigen, J. W. Greenhouse gas emissions along a peat swamp forest degradation gradient in the Peruvian Amazon: soil moisture and palm roots effects. Mitig. Adapt. Strateg. Glob. Change 24, 625–643 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. van Lent, J. Land-Use Change and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the Tropics: Forest Degradation on Peat Soils. PhD dissertation, Wageningen Univ. (2020).

  9. Hergoualc’h, K. et al. Spatial and temporal variability of soil N2O and CH4 fluxes along a degradation gradient in a palm swamp peat forest in the Peruvian Amazon. Glob. Change Biol. 26, 7198–7216 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Swails, E., Hergoualc’h, K., Verchot, L., Novita, N. & Lawrence, D. Spatio-temporal variability of peat CH4 and N2O fluxes and their contribution to peat GHG budgets in Indonesian forests and oil palm plantations. Front. Environ. Sci. 9, 48 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Gaveau, D. L. A. et al. Major atmospheric emissions from peat fires in Southeast Asia during non-drought years: evidence from the 2013 Sumatran fires. Sci. Rep. 4, 6112 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Page, S. E. et al. The amount of carbon released from peat and forest fires in Indonesia during 1997. Nature 420, 61–65 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Mishra, S. et al. Degradation of Southeast Asian tropical peatlands and integrated strategies for their better management and restoration. J. Appl. Ecol. 58, 1370–1387 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Dargie, G. C. et al. Congo Basin peatlands: threats and conservation priorities. Mitig. Adapt. Strateg. Glob. Change 24, 669–686 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Roucoux, K. H. et al. Threats to intact tropical peatlands and opportunities for their conservation. Conserv. Biol. 31, 1283–1292 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Griscom, B. W. et al. Natural climate solutions. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, 11645–11650 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Girardin, C. A. J. et al. Nature-based solutions can help cool the planet—if we act now. Nature 593, 191–194 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Murdiyarso, D., Lilleskov, E. & Kolka, R. Tropical peatlands under siege: the need for evidence-based policies and strategies. Mitig. Adapt. Strateg. Glob. Change 24, 493–505 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Householder, J. E., Janovec, J. P., Tobler, M. W., Page, S. & Lähteenoja, O. Peatlands of the Madre de Dios River of Peru: distribution, geomorphology, and habitat diversity. Wetlands 32, 359–368 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Hess, L. L. et al. Wetlands of the lowland Amazon Basin: extent, vegetative cover, and dual-season inundated area as mapped with JERS-1 synthetic aperture radar. Wetlands 35, 745–756 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Gumbricht, T. et al. An expert system model for mapping tropical wetlands and peatlands reveals South America as the largest contributor. Glob. Change Biol. 23, 3581–3599 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Lähteenoja, O. et al. The large Amazonian peatland carbon sink in the subsiding Pastaza-Marañón foreland basin. Peru. Glob. Change Biol. 18, 164–178 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Honorio Coronado, E. N. et al. Intensive field sampling increases the known extent of carbon-rich Amazonian peatland pole forests. Environ. Res. Lett. 16, 74048 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Hergoualc’h, K., Gutiérrez-Vélez, V. H., Menton, M. & Verchot, L. V. Characterizing degradation of palm swamp peatlands from space and on the ground: an exploratory study in the Peruvian Amazon. Ecol. Manag. 393, 63–73 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Baker, T. R. et al. in Peru: Deforestation in Times of Climate Change (ed. Chirif, A.) 155–175 (International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, 2019).

  26. López Gonzales, M. et al. What Do We Know About Peruvian Peatlands? Occasional Report 210 (CIFOR, 2020); https://www.cifor.org/publications/pdf_files/OccPapers/OP-210.pdf

  27. Decreto Supremo N° 006-2021-MINAM (Ministerio del Ambiente, 2021).

  28. Peru’s Submission of a Forest Reference Emission Level (FREL) for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon (Ministerio del Ambiente, 2016).

  29. Csillik, O., Kumar, P., Mascaro, J., O’Shea, T. & Asner, G. P. Monitoring tropical forest carbon stocks and emissions using Planet satellite data. Sci. Rep. 9, 17831 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Donchyts, G. et al. Global 30 m height above the nearest drainage. Geophys. Res. Abstracts 18, EGU2016-17445-3 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  31. Drusch, M. et al. Sentinel-2: ESA’s optical high-resolution mission for GMES operational services. Remote Sens. Environ. 120, 25–36 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Shimada, M. et al. New global forest/non-forest maps from ALOS PALSAR data (2007–2010). Remote Sens. Environ. 155, 13–31 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Toivonen, T., Mäki, S. & Kalliola, R. The riverscape of Western Amazonia—a quantitative approach to the fluvial biogeography of the region. J. Biogeogr. 34, 1374–1387 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Vijay, V., Reid, C. D., Finer, M., Jenkins, C. N. & Pimm, S. L. Deforestation risks posed by oil palm expansion in the Peruvian Amazon. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 114010 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Lilleskov, E. et al. Is Indonesian peatland loss a cautionary tale for Peru? A two-country comparison of the magnitude and causes of tropical peatland degradation. Mitig. Adapt. Strateg. Glob. Change 24, 591–623 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Watson, J. E. M. et al. The exceptional value of intact forest ecosystems. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 2, 599–610 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Hansen, A. J. et al. A policy-driven framework for conserving the best of Earth’s remaining moist tropical forests. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 4, 1377–1384 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Maxwell, S. L. et al. Degradation and forgone removals increase the carbon impact of intact forest loss by 626%. Sci. Adv. 5, 10 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Grantham, H. S. et al. Anthropogenic modification of forests means only 40% of remaining forests have high ecosystem integrity. Nat. Commun. 11, 5978 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Lähteenoja, O. & Page, S. High diversity of tropical peatland ecosystem types in the Pastaza-Marañón Basin, Peruvian Amazonia. J. Geophys. Res. 116, G02025 (2011).

    Google Scholar 

  41. Draper, F. C. et al. Peatland forests are the least diverse tree communities documented in Amazonia, but contribute to high regional beta-diversity. Ecography 41, 1256–1269 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Ráster del uso y cambio de uso de la tierra para los periodos 2000-2005, 2005–2011, 2011–2013, 2013–2016. Monitoreo de los cambios sobre la cobertura de los bosques peruanos—Geobosques (Ministerio del Ambiente, accessed December 2020); https://geobosques.minam.gob.pe/geobosque/view/descargas.php?122345gxxe345w34gg

  43. Lähteenoja, O., Ruokolainen, K., Schulman, L. & Oinonen, M. Amazonian peatlands: an ignored C sink and potential source. Glob. Change Biol. 15, 2311–2320 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Page, S. E., Rieley, J. O. & Banks, C. J. Global and regional importance of the tropical peatland carbon pool. Glob. Change Biol. 17, 798–818 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Troels-Smith, J. Characterisation of unconsolidated sediments. Dan. Geol. Undersøg. IV, 73 (1955).

    Google Scholar 

  46. Kershaw, A. A modification of the Troels-Smith system of sediment description and portrayal. Quat. Australas. 15, 63–68 (1997).

    Google Scholar 

  47. Málaga, N., Giudice, R., Vargas, C., Y Rojas, E. Estimación de los contenidos de carbono de la biomasa aérea en los bosques de Perú (Ministerio del Ambiente, 2014).

  48. Farr, T. G. et al. The Shuttle Radar Topography Mission. Rev. Geophys. 45, RG2004 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Olofsson, P., Foody, G. M., Stehman, S. V. & Woodcock, C. E. Making better use of accuracy data in land change studies: estimating accuracy and area and quantifying uncertainty using stratified estimation. Remote Sens. Environ. 129, 122–131 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Rodríguez-Veiga, P. et al. Carbon stocks and fluxes in Kenyan forests and wooded grasslands derived from Earth observation and model–data fusion. Remote Sens. 12, 2380 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Bhomia, R. K. et al. Impacts of Mauritia flexuosa degradation on the carbon stocks of freshwater peatlands in the Pastaza-Marañón river basin of the Peruvian Amazon. Mitig. Adapt. Strateg. Glob. Change 24, 645–668 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. National Forest Reference Emission Level for Deforestation and Forest Degradation of Indonesia (Ministry of Environment and Forestry, 2016).

  53. Eggleston, S., Buendia, L., Miwa, K., Ngara, T. & Tanabe, K. IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories Vol. 4 (Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, 2006); https://www.ipcc-nggip.iges.or.jp/public/2006gl/vol4

Download references

Acknowledgements

This work was funded by NERC (grant ref. NE/R000751/1) to I.T.L., A.H., K.H.R., E.T.A.M., C.M.A., T.R.B., G.D. and E.C.D.G.; Leverhulme Trust (grant ref. RPG-2018-306) to K.H.R., L.E.S.C. and C.E.W.; Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (grant no. 5439, MonANPeru network) to T.R.B., E.N.H.C. and G.F.; Wildlife Conservation Society to E.N.H.C.; Concytec/British Council/Embajada Británica Lima/Newton Fund (grant ref. 220–2018) to E.N.H.C. and J.D.; Concytec/NERC/Embajada Británica Lima/Newton Fund (grant ref. 001–2019) to E.N.H.C. and N.D.; the governments of the United States (grant no. MTO-069018) and Norway (grant agreement no. QZA-12/0882) to K.H.; and NERC Knowledge Exchange Fellowship (grant ref no. NE/V018760/1) to E.N.H.C. We thank SERNANP, SERFOR and GERFOR for providing research permits, and the different Indigenous and local communities, research stations and tourist companies for giving consent and allowing access to the forests. We acknowledge the invaluable support of technicians J. Irarica, J. Sanchez, H, Vásquez and R. Flores, without whom much of the fieldwork would not have been possible.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

A.H., I.T.L., E.N.H.C., E.T.A.M., K.H.R., T.R.B., L.E.S.C. and C.E.W. all contributed to the conception, development and design of the study. A.H. and E.N.H.C. performed the analysis with input from E.T.A.M., K.H., I.T.L., L.E.S.C. and P.R.-V. A.H. and E.N.H.C. wrote the manuscript with input from all the co-authors. New field data were collected by J.R., A.H., C.M.A., I.T.L., L.E.S.C., C.E.W., N.D., C.J.C.O., G.D., J.D.A., G.F., D.R. and J.G. J.E.H., O.L., F.D., J.P.J. and M.T. provided data.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Adam Hastie.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Geoscience thanks Gusti Anshari and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editors: Kyle Frischkorn and Rebecca Neely, in collaboration with the Nature Geoscience team.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–12, Methods, Discussion and Tables 1–11.

Supplementary Data 1

Excel file containing extended data that support Table 1.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hastie, A., Honorio Coronado, E.N., Reyna, J. et al. Risks to carbon storage from land-use change revealed by peat thickness maps of Peru. Nat. Geosci. 15, 369–374 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-022-00923-4

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-022-00923-4

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing