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Threats to intact tropical peatlands and opportunities for their conservation

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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. We explored threats to and opportunities for conserving remaining intact tropical peatlands; thus, we excluded peatlands of Indonesia and Malaysia, where extensive deforestation, drainage, and conversion to plantations means conservation in this region can protect only small fragments of the original ecosystem. We focused 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 is representative of peatland 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. 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 does not include the most carbon‐dense (domed pole forest) areas. New carbon‐based conservation instruments (e.g., REDD+, Green Climate Fund), 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.
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Keywords: Amazonia; Amazonía; Peru; carbon; carbono; peat; peatland; tropics; trópicos; turba; turberas

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2017

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