Tropical peatland restoration to support local communities and ecosystem processes

ZSL is supporting efforts to map the loss of peat swamp forest in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Peat swamp forest in Kalimantan

Summary of research

Tropical peatlands are globally significant carbon sinks as well as biodiversity hotspots. Peat consists of incompletely decomposed plant material that has accumulated over thousands of years in waterlogged environments that lack oxygen, and as such they store huge amounts of CO2.

The natural vegetation in tropical peatlands are peat swamp forest, but these are being cleared and replaced by plantations. The process of converting peat swamp forest to plantations involves draining the peat, in order to lower the water table and increase productivity. Dry peat is more likely to burn and oxidizes more quickly, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere and contributing towards global warming. ZSL is mapping the loss of peat swamp forest in Sumatra, Indonesia, using state of the art methods and freely available remote sensing data. These maps will help conservation and restoration efforts in the region.


Why we are there

The main threat to peat swamp forests is conversion of forests to plantations, particularly palm oil and acacia plantations. There are many species specialist that depend on peat swamp forests, such as freshwater fish and trees. The release of large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere through forest clearance, peat drainage and fires threatens species world-wide through the effects of global warming.



By providing up-to-date information on the location and level of degradation of peat swamp forest we can aid restoration efforts in the region.

Key Species

The focus is on the ecosystem as a whole rather than individual species


People involved



Indonesian Center for Agricultural Land Resources Research and Development

Jambi University

University of York

University of Liverpool

University of Leeds


Useful links

Sumatra's Peatland Restoration project