“They are drying out” : social-ecological consequences of glacier recession on mountain peatlands in Huascarán National Park, Peru
MetadataShow full item record
Ecosystems that are proximal to tropical glaciers, such as mountain peatlands in Peru’s Huascarán National Park, are experiencing ecological changes caused by glacier recession. Peatlands are not only affected by biophysical changes, but also by human behaviors and associated land use decisions that are influenced by changing environmental conditions. Thus mountain peatlands in Huascarán National Park are coupled natural human systems. Social-ecological system theory can be used to situate integrated research questions and methodologies addressing the transformations of coupled natural human systems. In this dissertation, a social-ecological systems framework called the Press-Pulse Dynamics model was applied to investigate peatland transformations related to climate change and land use decisions. Using social-ecological systems theory necessitates methodological pluralism because reliance on a single epistemology produces limited new knowledge. In this research, a set of quantitative and qualitative techniques were implemented to produce an integrated perspective on social-ecological peatlands. A 23-year spatio-temporal remote sensing analysis of peatlands showed that the ecosystems are losing area through processes of fragmentation, attrition, and isolation. Statistical evidence suggested that loss of glacier area and decreasing stream discharge are driving factors for peatland area change, but that in the future, precipitation may become a more dominant factor. Extensive in situ plant surveys indicated high alpha and beta diversity and that there are likely many more species to be added to the known peatland flora. Vegetation heterogeneity was explained by the abiotic factors of elevation, percent organic matter, bulk density, and cation exchange capacity. A series of ecological oral histories showed that local users of peatlands have observed spatial and ecological changes over their lifetimes. The observations by local people corroborated quantitative findings and substantiated the linked biophysical and social aspects that affect peatlands. Interconnections between social and biophysical processes in the PPD model suggest that future peatland stewardship responsibilities should be entrusted to local communities in close collaboration with the national park and non-governmental organizations who could provide technology transfer support. The dissertation contributes to and advances geography by innovatively bridging multiple perspectives through a social-ecological systems model to produce new biophysical and social knowledge about tropical mountain peatlands that are affected by glacier recession.