In October 2022, almost 30 expert participants from nine countries met to discuss current Andean peatland ecology topics and initiate a regional research network encompassing all countries with high-Andean tropical cushion peatlands.

This MRI-funded synthesis workshop took place from 10 - 14 October 2022 at the Institute of Ecology at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, Bolivia, and included two days of hands-on field experience in a mountain region close to La Paz. In addition to the 27 in-person attendees, the workshop included a partially hybrid component, enabling 127 people to attend the sessions online.


Why High-Andean Tropical Peatlands?

Peatlands are one of the world’s main carbon (C) reservoirs. High-Andean tropical cushion peatlands are a particular type of mountain peatland that provides important ecosystem services and serve not only as C storage but also as hydrological regulators. They are additionally strongly linked to traditional use by local communities since they constitute key grazing areas for domestic animals and wild camelids. Andean pastoralists possess traditional ecological knowledge to manage, maintain and even increase the extent of these ecosystems.

Given that Andean cushion peatlands are highly vulnerable to climate change and overexploitation, the workshop organizers believe a joint action of different stakeholders is needed to improve the understanding of peatland C dynamics and the role of environmental factors and human land use practices. This knowledge would enable researchers to predict the peatlands’ response to ongoing climate change and to adapt management practices.

“We noticed that research on this topic has increased in the last 20 years but, most of the available studies were conducted at the local scale and we are still a very long way from understanding mechanisms, processes, and trends behind regional carbon dynamics in Andean peatlands,” said workshop organizer Mary Carolina García Lino. “To predict climate change impacts on peatlands across the Andes, data needs to be collected and analyzed in an integrated way. This will enable us to increase our knowledge of the environmental controls on carbon dynamics of cushion peatlands and provide tools to effectively guide management strategies for peatland conservation and restoration.”

The key aim of the workshop was to initiate a regional research network encompassing all countries with high-Andean tropical cushion peatlands. This included:

  • Identifying knowledge gaps and the information needed to fill these gaps to understand C dynamics and cushion peatlands’ response to ongoing climate change;
  • Learning and assessing feasible methodologies that can be implemented across different regions of the Tropical Andes and be expanded to other cushion peatland regions;
  • Identifying different types of land use, understanding how land use practices differ along the Tropical Andes, and assessing information needed to understand how land use practices affect C dynamics.


Getting to Work

The workshop featured a variety of presentations, break-out group work, round table discussions, and a mountain field excursion.

Participants learned about current topics related to the carbon dynamics in Andean cushion peatlands, land use practices (modern and past ages), paleoecology and vegetation history, and identification of essential biodiversity variables that inform relevant decision-making, among others (Fig. 1 a, b).

Peatlands Synthesis Workshop Figure1

Pictured above: Figure 1: Impressions from the presentations and group work during the workshop. Photos: Héctor Aponte (a, c, d, e), Maaike Bader (b).

In addition, there were several presentations related to the technical details of different methods that can be used to study peatland ecology. These were widely discussed during the days of hands-on field demonstrations in the nearby cushion peatlands of Tuni Condoriri, Cordillera Real, La Paz Deparment, Bolivia.

Peatlands Synthesis Workshop Figure3

Pictured above: Hands-on practical training. a) Procedure to collect a peat sample. b) Peat strata identification for paleontological studies and also for use of isotopes for dating peat layers. c) Preparing leaf litter of Distichia muscoides for a joint study on decomposition in Andean cushion peatlands. d) Demonstration of the crank-wire method to measure cushion growth. e) Explanation of how to measure gas fluxes. f) Use of 3D modelling to calculate cushion volume and thus estimate biomass production. Photos: Maaike Bader (c, e), Esteban Suarez (f), Héctor Aponte (a, b, d).

Break-out group work offered the opportunity to discuss various questions addressed during the workshop. Each group brainstormed, shared experiences, and drew diagrams to show their results during the session (Fig. 1 c, d, e). During the roundtable discussions, participants defined research priorities, discussed challenges and opportunities to build a formal network, and synthesized their activities and next steps.

Key Outcomes and Next Steps

By the end of the workshop, the organizers’ accomplished their main aim – forming a research network to carry out joint research projects on a larger geographical scale, one that requires the contribution of several researchers along the Tropical Andes and translating intention into action.

Further, participants understood that a typology, classification, and nomenclature of high Andean tropical cushion peatlands is urgently needed since terms and definitions of “cushion peatlands” differ in the Andes. Another key outcome was that participants learned different methods related to carbon dynamics, which they can apply to their own research.

“This workshop tested the theoretical framework of the Essential Biodiversity Variables proposed by GEO BON to implement a regional network for monitoring carbon fluxes in the Andes. We have encountered and discussed complex technical and human challenges, but we have also seen the possibilities and opportunities that a network and a coordinated observation system would bring us to help make better development and conservation decisions. I believe that the seed of a network to help us understand the carbon dynamics in this neglected ecosystem in the Andes has been sown during this workshop.” (Miguel Fernandez)

Moving forward, in March 2023 researchers from Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia have committed to start a decomposition experiment in cushion peatlands in the Tropical Andes. While the experimental design is set, other working groups are welcome to join this initiative.

The participants of the workshop plan to produce a paper about the characterization and typification of Andean peatlands. In the medium term, the network members plan to create a database of all information generated by each working group where terms of use will be defined so that data can be shared and used by other network members. This database will also be useful for defining knowledge gaps that can then be systematically filled. Furthermore, a “horizon scan” (cf. Sutherland et al. 2022) may be published in certain intervals to inform about topics with probable impacts on Andean peatland ecology.

The workshop was organized by:

  • Mary Carolina García Lino, Dr. Institute of Biology/Geobotany and Botanical Garden, Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, Halle, German & Herbario Nacional de Bolivia, Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, La Paz, Bolivia
  • Maaike Bader, Prof. Dr. Ecological Plant Geography, Faculty of Geography, University of Marburg
  • Alejandra Domic, Dr. Department of Geosciences y Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University & Herbario Nacional de Bolivia, Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, La Paz, Bolivia
  • Miguel Fernández, Dr., German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research Halle-Jena-Leipzig,Germany, Environmental Science and Policy Department, George Mason University, Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, La Paz, Bolivia
  • Isabell Hensen, Prof. Dr. Institute of Biology/Geobotany and Botanical Garden, Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, Halle, Germany
  • Arely N. Palabral Aguilera, MSc, Herbario Nacional de Bolivia, Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, La Paz, Bolivia
  • Edson Ramírez, Dr. Instituto de Hidráulica e Hidrología, Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, La Paz, Bolivia

The organizers acknowledge and thank the Mountain Research Initiative (MRI) and the Federal State of Saxony-Anhalt for supporting this workshop. All participants were highly motivated and eager to share their knowledge.

Cover image: workshop participants on an excursion in Tuni Condoriri, Cordillera Real, La Paz, Bolivia. Photo by M. Bader.



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