Carbon Dynamics in Response to Land Cover Change in Tropical Peatlands, Kalimantan, Indonesia

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This study focuses in providing the knowledge on carbon (C) stocks, emission and ecosystem productivity related to land use/land cover change in tropical peatlands. The field research activities were conducted for about 17 months between August 2013 to December 2015, at Pematang Gadung peat dome (peat depth up to 10.5 m), Ketapang Regency, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. The objectives of this study were: a). to quantify C stocks of tropical coastal peat swamp forest, and the potential impact of forest degradation due to draining and logging activities on the forest’s carbon stocks; b). to examine the change in ecosystem C stocks and the potential C emissions in relation to land conversion from intact peat swamp forest (PSF) to logged peat forest (LPSF), early seral (ES) and oil palm plantation (OP); and c). to estimate net primary production (NPP) and net ecosystem production (NEP) in peat swamp forests, logged peat forest, early seral and smallholder - oil palm plantations. The intact peat forest sites have higher total aboveground C stocks (125 Mg C ha-1) than the logged peat forest sites (77 Mg C ha-1). Mean depths of the LPSF was 725 cm and the PSF was 915 cm (p= 0.06). Mean peat carbon stocks at PSF was 4,243 Mg C ha-1, higher than at LPSF that was 3,675 Mg C ha-1. Logging and draining had reduced the biomass of trees and the peat carbon pools. My study demonstrated that tropical coastal PSF has the largest total carbon stocks among terrestrial ecosystems on earth. The large carbon stocks and high rates of PSF degradation, points to the relevance for inclusion of PSF in nationally appropriate climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. The mean ecosystem carbon stock for the PSF sites was 4,401 Mg C ha-1. Ecosystem C stocks of LPSF, ES and OP was 3,768, 3,147, and 3,442 Mg C ha-1, respectively. PSF stocks was significantly higher than the degraded land covers. At all sites, soils comprised > 96% of the mean ecosystem carbon stock. Using the estimation based on ecosystem carbon loss to total peat depths, the conversion of PSF to LPSF, ES and OP was estimated to result in a net loss of 1,982, 4,259 and 3,176 Mg C-CO2 ha-1, respectively. My results confirm that land cover change significantly impacted soil properties and reduced ecosystem carbon stocks. The tropical peatlands need urgent and significant efforts in conservation and restoration, to regain its function as a C sink and mitigate climate change. I found that land use/land cover change resulted in large shifts in NPP and NEP. LPSF, ES and OP have significantly lower NPP (11.1 Mg C ha-1 yr-1, 10.8 Mg C ha-1 yr-1 and 3.7 Mg C ha-1 yr-1, respectively) than PSF (13.2 Mg C ha-1 yr-1). ES showed lower heterotrophic respiration (30.7 Mg CO2 ha-1 yr-1) than PSF, LPSF and OP (37.7 Mg CO2 ha-1 yr-1, 40.7 Mg CO2 ha-1 yr-1, 38.7 Mg CO2 ha-1 yr-1, respectively). LPSF and OP were net carbon sources; they have negative mean NEP values (-0.1 Mg CO2-e ha-1 yr-1 and -25.1 Mg CO2-e ha-1 yr-1, respectively). In contrast PSF and ES were net carbon sinks (10.8 Mg CO2-e ha-1 yr-1 and 9.1 CCO2 ha-1 yr-1, respectively). PSF is among the most productive of terrestrial ecosystems, with an NPP exceeding that of many tropical rain forests and similar to the most productive mangrove ecosystems. I found that land use decreases productivity of the LPSF and OP sites. The ES had a similar NEP to the PSF, but frequent fires in this ecosystem likely offset carbon gains during the fire intervals. Land use change and forest degradation have shifted tropical PSFs from net carbon sinks to net carbon sources. My study demonstrated that land conversion in tropical peat swamp forests should be halted and degraded peatlands need to be restored in order to mitigate climate change.

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