Focus on the Congo Basin – Latest research shows many peatlands remain “undiscovered”

The low-lying depression covered by swamp forest known as the Cuvette Centrale is in the centre of the Congo Basin. Despite its size, the peatlands of the region have received little research attention until now. Recently, scientists mapped the world’s most extensive tropical peatland complex beneath the forest floor. At around 145,500 km 2 , it is five times larger than originally estimated and bigger than England (Dargie et al., 2017). Peat swamp forest vegetation observed in the field permitted peatland extent to be estimated through remotely sensed mapping. Fieldwork confirmed the presence of extensive peat deposits (maximum depth of 5.9 meters). When area estimates were combined with measurements of peat depth, bulk density and carbon concentrations, it was estimated that the peatlands hold about 30 billion tonnes of carbon – equal to over 15 years of carbon dioxide emissions of the United States and similar to the above-ground carbon stock of the entire forests in Congo Basin (Verhegghen et al., 2012). These numbers increase the best estimate so far of global tropical peatland carbon stocks by 36 percent, to 105 billion tonnes. They place the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of Congo behind Indonesia as the second and third

most important countries in the tropics in terms of peatland area and carbon stocks.

The peatlands of the Congos are globally significant, and in their near-pristine state they are an important source of ecological stability for the entire region, a valuable carbon store and home to unique flora and fauna. The Congo Basin boasts 10,000 species of tropical plants of which 30 percent are unique to the region. It is also home to several endangered species including forest elephants, chimpanzees, bonobos, and lowland and mountain gorillas. Besides these higher primates, the region is rich in other species – 400 other mammals, 700 different kinds of fish and 1,000 species of birds are found here (WWF n.d.). People have inhabited the Congo Basin for more than 50,000 years and today’s population of 75 million people relies on it for shelter, food and fresh water. There are nearly 150 distinct ethnic groups in the region, and many continue ancient hunter-gatherer lifestyles, meaning their lives and well-being are intimately linked with the health of the forest, much of which stands on peatlands (WWF n.d.).


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