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Conservation slows down emission increase from a tropical peatland in Indonesia

Abstract

Tropical peatlands are threatened by climate change and land-use changes, but there remain substantial uncertainties about their present and future role in the global carbon cycle due to limited measurements. Here, we present measurements of carbon dioxide and methane emissions between mid-2017 and mid-2020 as well as nitrous oxide emissions between 2019 and 2020 at two contrasting sites at a coastal peatland in Sumatra, Indonesia. We find that greenhouse-gas emissions from intact peatland increased substantially due to an extreme drought caused by a positive Indian Ocean Dipole phase combined with El Niño. The emission in the degraded site was two times greater than that at the intact site. The smaller emission from the intact peatland suggests that protecting the remaining intact tropical peatlands from degradation offers important climate benefits, avoiding greenhouse-gas emissions of 24 ± 5 tCO2e ha−1 yr−1 (average ± standard deviation) at our study site in Indonesia.

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Fig. 1: Location of the study area, Kampar Peninsula, Sumatra, Indonesia.
Fig. 2: Intact and degraded tropical peatland in Sumatra, Indonesia is emitting CO2 and CH4 to the atmosphere.
Fig. 3: The GWL is a key driver of the net ecosystem exchange for both CO2 and CH4.

Data availability

All data that support the findings of this study are archived on https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4835696.

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Acknowledgements

The establishment and operation of the EC towers and associated data collection were funded by Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd (APRIL) and Riau Ecosystem Restoration (RER).

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Contributions

C.S.D., C.D.E. and S.E.P. conceived the study. C.S.D., D.J., A.P.S, Y.W.S and A.R.D. completed EC data processing. D.J., N. Nardi, A.P.S., N. Nurholis, M.H., C.S.D., S.K., Y.S. and A.A. performed the data collection, EC instrument calibration and maintenance. C.S.D. conceived the paper and wrote the initial draft, to which all authors provided critical contributions and approved the submission.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Chandra S. Deshmukh.

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Competing interests

C.D.E., S.E.P., S.S., V.G., F.A. and D.A. contributed to this paper as part of their contribution to the Independent Peat Expert Working Group (IPEWG), which was set up by Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd (APRIL) to provide objective science-based advice on peatland management. The contribution of A.R.D. was also supported by APRIL to provide technical guidance on the EC data processing including quality controls and gap-filling protocols. C.S.D., D.J., N. Nardi, A.P.S., N. Nurholis, M.H., S.K., Y.S., A.A. and Y.W.S. are employed by APRIL to conduct data collection, instrument maintenance and calibration. The funders had no role in the interpretation of data, in the writing of the manuscript or in the decision to publish the results. The authors declare that all views expressed are their own.

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Peer review information Nature Geoscience thanks the anonymous reviewers for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: Xujia Jiang.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Rainfall and climate indices in the study area.

a, Comparison between monthly rainfall in the intact peatland, the degraded peatland, and Pekanbaru Airport (Riau, Sumatra) which represent the closest available long-term rainfall measurements in the region, (b) comparison between rainfall in Pekanbaru Airport during study period and long-term average of 30 years from 1991-2020 and (c) the relationship between rainfall in Pekanbaru Airport and climate indices represented with normalized anomaly of rainfall amount in July-August-September; ‘E’ and ‘L’ indicate El Niño and La Niña years, respectively; red and blue bars indicate positive and negative IOD years, respectively; grey bar shows neutral years. The Dipole Mode Index data were obtained from http://psl.noaa.gov/. Southern Oscillation Index were obtained from https://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/data/indices/soi. The extended dry period in July-September 2019 coincided with a convergence of El-Niño and positive Indian Ocean Dipole.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Groundwater level controls net ecosystem CO2 exchanges.

Response of (a) measured half-hourly net ecosystem CO2 exchanges, (b) ecosystem respiration and (c) gross primary production to the groundwater level at the intact peatland (black) and the degraded peatland (red). Measured half-hourly data were grouped into daytime (06:00-18:00 LT) and nightime (18:00-06:00 LT). Then each dataset were sorted into 50 classes of groundwater level and averaged for each class. Subsequently, the daily value was computed from the average of daytime and nighttime values. The vertical bars represent the standard deviation for each class. d, Response of the 09:00-15:00 LT gross primary production to photosyntheic photon flux density at two different groundwater level classes based on median value. The selection of time window may have created biases in actual response curves of both ecosystems, but this bias would not change the interpretation. Data were binned by subgroups of 100 half-hourly values of gross primary production and corresponding photosynthetic photon flux density and then averaged for each class. All statistical tests used a significance level of 5%. Intact peatland shows higher light-use efficiency when groundwater level is shallow.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Relationship between net ecosystem CO2 exchange and groundwater level.

Data are derived from 30 site-years of the eddy covariance measurements in tropical peatlands in Southeast Asia. Solid line indicates linear relation with dashed lines for 95% confidence interval. The statistical test used a significance level of 5%. Carbon dioxide emissions increase with lower groundwater level.

Extended Data Fig. 4 The intact peatland emits lower soil N2O emissions than the degraded peatland.

Measurements of N2O emissions at the intact peatland (black) and the degraded peatland (red). The boxes show the median value and the interquartile range, and whiskers denote the full range of all chambers. The n values represent total number of soil N2O flux measurements.

Extended Data Fig. 5 The environmental variables at the intact peatland during the study period.

Variations in daily (a) photosynthetic photon flux density, (b) air temperature, (c) vapor pressure deficit and (d) soil temperature at the intact peatland. The vertical bar represents standard deviation.

Extended Data Fig. 6 The environmental variables at the degraded peatland during the study period.

Variations in daily (a) photosynthetic photon flux density, (b) air temperature, (c) vapor pressure deficit and (d) soil temperature at the degraded peatland. The vertical bar represents standard deviation.

Extended Data Table 1 Characteristics of the intact and the degraded peatland sites in Sumatra, Indonesia
Extended Data Table 2 Annual average with standard deviation of environmental variables at the intact and the degraded peatland in Sumatra, Indonesia
Extended Data Table 3 Annual net ecosystem CO2, CH4 and H2O (evapotranspiration) exchanges at the intact and the degraded peatland in Sumatra, Indonesia

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Deshmukh, C.S., Julius, D., Desai, A.R. et al. Conservation slows down emission increase from a tropical peatland in Indonesia. Nat. Geosci. 14, 484–490 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-021-00785-2

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