Why Peatland?

GLF 2017 Blog Competition
Ratna Tesalonika

Peatland is an organic material naturally formed from plants residues that decompose imperfectly and accumulate in swamps. Peatland forests are unique ecosystem in terms of forest structure and floristic, because of their acidic soil water, high waterlogging, low oxygen content and low nutrient condition. These conditions make peatlands have biodiversity that is different from other ecosystem where some species create a special adaptation strategy in onder to survive with existing environmental conditions in peatland. Some plants, the form of adaptation is to use insects as a nutrient source because the soil fertility level in the peatland is very low (nutrient-poor) compared to mineral soil.

“Peatlands have biodiversity that is different from other ecosystem”

Peatland occupy about 3% of the global land area, most of them are located in temperate and boreal areas (Immirzi et al. 1992; Page et al. 2011). However, the layer of organic matter are much thicker in tropical areas (Page et al., 2011b). Ten to sixteen percent of global peatlands are in tropic, mostly in southeast asia 6%-8%, south america 3%, africa 1% and central america < 1% of the global resource by area (Page at al. 2011).

Peatland can deliver ecosystem services that contribute to the provision of important products, such as crops, berries, timber and fibre, livestock, purified water and sequestering carbon over long periods of time. They support diverse forms of flora, fauna and microbes with many endemic and endangered species. Local communities can take advantage of low-depth peatlands and certain acidity levels for planting crops such as coconut, areca nut, jelutung, sago, and coffee.

Peatland is the major terrestrial carbon store on earth and highly significant mitigate climate change. However the carbon pool is presently disturbed by utilization practices, and consequently it is becoming vulnerable to the effects of the changes. Almost all regional peatlands are threated and destroyed by logging, drainage, agricultural development and other human activities. Tropical peatlands present a threat if they switch from being carbon sinks to carbon sources for the atmosphere (Rahajoe et al. 2016). Forest fires is one factor in peatland degradation and have a large impact on tropical forest ecosystem and biodiversity (Barber and Schweithelm 2000). Page et al. (2002) estimated that under the 1997 El Nino event, 32% (0,79 Mha) had burnt in Central Kalimantan and of which 91,5 % (0,73 Mha) was peatlands. Repeated cycles of burning have transformed forests completely into grass or scrubland and forest recovery would be difficult after a fire.

“Forest fires is one factor in peatland degradation and have a large impact on tropical forest ecosystem and biodiversity”

After peat fire, soil nutrient levels also became lower as compared to those of intact peatland forest (Mirmanto 2011). It causes the regeneration of the forest to be very slow and the availability of plant seeds is also reduced. Some of the plants species that live in peatland forests can’t adapt to the conditions of open land whereas after a fire, there is no shade of trees at all. Repeated fires not only suppress forest regeneration, but also further combust top layers of peat, lowering the surface level. In the worst case, they change these areas to seasonal lakes of over one meter deep (Wosten et al. 2006).

Land – use changes may be among the most important factors which significantly affect ecosystem processes and services. It has been predicted that in the future, land use change is likely to occur predominantly in the tropics, associated with the decreases in net primary productivity and increases in surface temperatures (DeFries and Bounaua 2004). Peatland encroachment may result from open access to the local communities and claim the land as their own.

Land management by local communities in Central Kalimantan begins with the burning of peatlands and then planted with cultivated crops such as rice and fruits. However, the productivity of the crops is not good because of the unsuitable of the land so that the local communities leave the land just like that.

“The existence of partnership with local communities that are economically, ecologically, and socially beneficial can support the restoration of degraded peatlands”

To prevent peatland degradation, we need to prevent peatland from suffering serious damages due to peat fire by keeping our peatland forest natural without logging, or deforestation. Restoration activities of degraded peatlands may also be undertaken to prevent recurrent land fires. Planting forest plants that can adapt to existing peatland condition and also can be utilized by the local community to improve their economy is one of the solutions. The existence of partnership with local communities that are economically, ecologically, and socially beneficial can support the restoration of degraded peatlands. Utilization of non-timber forest products that have high economic prospects should be developed as a new alternative livelihood for local communities. This new alternative is expedted can reduce the logging activities on peatland forests.


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