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Stirling scientists share specialist carbon loss knowledge in Asia

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Two University of Stirling academics have shared their specialist knowledge of carbon loss in peat lands to train almost 100 international scientists, land managers and conservationists in workshops in Malaysia and Borneo.

Professor David Gilvear and research assistant Dr Simon Drew spent a week in Asia conducting training. They were part of a team of scientists from the University of Stirling and Glasgow University, who work together on the Research Council knowledge exchange project Carbon Landscapes and Drainage (CLAD).

The event was hosted by the University of Malaysia (UNIMAS) in Kuching and University of Technology Malaysia (UTM) in Kuala Lumpur.

Like Scotland, Malaysia is peat-rich with eight per cent of its land cloaked with peat - in some cases to a depth of over 10 metres. However, over the last two decades large tracts of tropical rainforest on peat have been drained and converted to oil palm plantations, greatly changing the landscape.

Peat is one of the most efficient natural reservoirs of carbon, and does not decompose in healthy, growing bogs because it lives in wet, airless, acidic conditions. Instead, peat bogs act as ‘sinks’, which ‘fix’ and store carbon from the atmosphere.

If exposed and allowed to dry out and oxidise, the bogs release greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Drained peat lands also release enhanced, dissolved carbon and flakes of peat into the drained waters, representing another critical loss, with additional consequences for the ecology of streams and lakes.

The Stirling-run workshops focussed on monitoring runoff, and dissolved and particulate carbon losses from peat land catchments.

David Gilvear said: “This is a major problem in terms of biodiversity loss. Another key concern is that associated disturbance and drainage of the peat is leading to an increase in carbon losses to the atmosphere and freshwaters.

“We were delighted to be able to share this important information with the international community. The hope is that with scientifically sound monitoring the extent of the carbon loss can be determined and that best land management practices can be put in place to reduce the loss.”

Funding for the workshops was provided by CLAD with permission from the Natural Environment Research Council and the British High Commission.

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