Ecological impacts of deforestation and forest degradation in the peat swamp forests of northwestern Borneo
Nguyen, Ha Thanh
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Tropical peatlands have some of the highest carbon densities of any ecosystem and are under enormous development pressure. This dissertation aimed to provide better estimates of the scales and trends of ecological impacts from tropical peatland deforestation and degradation across more than 7,000 hectares of both intact and disturbed peatlands in northwestern Borneo. We combined direct field sampling and airborne Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) data to empirically quantify forest structures and aboveground live biomass across a largely intact tropical peat dome. The observed biomass density of 217.7 ± 28.3 Mg C hectare-1 was very high, exceeding many other tropical rainforests. The canopy trees were ~65m in height, comprising 81% of the aboveground biomass. Stem density was observed to increase across the 4m elevational gradient from the dome margin to interior with decreasing stem height, crown area and crown roughness. We also developed and implemented a multi-temporal, Landsat resolution change detection algorithm for identify disturbance events and assessing forest trends in aseasonal tropical peatlands. The final map product achieved more than 92% user’s and producer’s accuracy, revealing that after more than 25 years of management and disturbances, only 40% of the area was intact forest. Using a chronosequence approach, with a space for time substitution, we then examined the temporal dynamics of peatlands and their recovery from disturbance. We observed widespread arrested succession in previously logged peatlands consistent with hydrological limits on regeneration and degraded peat quality following canopy removal. We showed that clear-cutting, selective logging and drainage could lead to different modes of regeneration and found that statistics of the Enhanced Vegetation Index and LiDAR height metrics could serve as indicators of harvesting intensity, impacts, and regeneration stage. Long-term, continuous monitoring of the hydrology and ecology of peatland can provide key insights regarding best management practices, restoration, and conservation priorities for this unique and rapidly disappearing ecosystem.