Peatlands are unique, complex ecosystems of global importance for biodiversity conservation. At the species and genetic level, peatlands play a special role in maintaining biodiversity as a result of habitat isolation. At the ecosystem level, its value lies in its ability to self-organize and adapt to different physical conditions. Peatlands develop sophisticated self-regulation mechanisms over time, resulting in high within-habitat diversity, such as forest vegetation gradients in domed peat swamps. These ecological units are important for biodiversity far beyond their borders by maintaining the hydrological and microclimate features of adjacent areas and providing temporary habitats or refuge areas for dryland species39. Many species found either only or mainly in peatlands are adapted to its special acidic, nutrient-poor and water-logged conditions. The organisms are vulnerable to changes resulting from direct human intervention, to the external impacts of changes in their river basins and to climate change, which may lead to loss of habitats, species and associated eco-system services. Peatlands are often the last remaining natural areas in degraded landscapes and thus mitigate landscape fragmentation. It also supports adaptation by providing habitats for endangered species and those displaced by climate change.
The importance of peatlands for maintaining global biodiversity is usually underestimated right from the basic level of local conservation planning and practices, up to the crafting of national policies and development plans, and international convention deliberations and decisions. Its unique attributes require special consideration within conservation strategies and land-use plans40. The total area of peatlands in Southeast Asia is estimated to be about 250,000 square kilometers, which is 60 per cent of the world’s tropical peatlands41, and about a tenth of the total global peatland resource42. Majority of the peatlands in the region are located in Indonesia, which has over 70 per cent of the total peatland cover of Southeast Asia43. Other major peatland areas are found in Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Thailand, Viet Nam and the Philippines. Peatlands are usually found in low altitude, sub-coastal areas extending inland to distances of up to 300 kilometers. The depth of peat varies from 0.5 to more than 10 meters. Accelerated development, land conversion and degradation caused by land and forest.
Arvin C. Diesmos
Director of Biodiversity Information Management