Tropical Peatland

Microbes are well known for their vast metabolic diversity, tolerance towards extreme environments, and ease of metabolic engineering.

Our current research focuses on the microbial bioprocesses in tropical peatlands. By analyzing the genetic potential of total DNA collected from microbial communities that inhabit peatlands, we are trying to identify the uniqueness of peatlands at a global scale. Furthermore, microbes residing in peatlands have high potential as source of novel enzymes. We are mining novel enzymes and biosynthetic pathways from peatland microorganisms using culturing, gene-centric and functional screening approaches.

Peatlands in Jambi, Indonesia
There is a rich abundance of micro-organisms which are actively involved in plant biomass degradation. We discover potential novel enzymes from peatland microbiomes to develop a more efficient system for biofuel production.
We have been working for the past six years (since 2009) in peatlands in Jambi province, Sumatra to better understand the complex relationships of land use change and farming practices with microbial-based peat oxidation and GHG emissions. We have recently shown that combined hydrology and microbial ecology principles can minimize peat loss through oxidation (Mishra et al., 2014). Their findings show that the beneficial "rhizosphere effect" in the form of reduced peat loss and reduced GHG emissions is evident in peat plantations that practice mixed cropping techniques, which results from diverse microbes from the higher metabolites diversity from exudations by mixed crops (Mishra et al., 2014). These and other findings are leading to science-based solutions in managing plantations for longer time with lower environmental burden and reducing GHGs from peat.

Research theme: Terrestrial microbial ecology
Terrestrial microbial ecological processes aims to obtain basic knowledge on the ecology, diversity and evolution of soil-borne micro-organisms that are associated with plants and fungi. The model system taken for this study is “Peatland ecosystem” where we are looking into terrestrial processes in the functioning of Tropical Peatland Ecosystems.

Importance :
Peatlands are unique yet critical natural resource that forms 70% of global wetlands holding 10% of global freshwater resources and they remarkably sequester 1/3rd of global soil carbon. Southeast Asian peatlands in Indonesia store 57.4 Gt carbon, distributed within 23.4 million ha of peatlands, which are under threat from human pressures mainly through drainage, deforestation and forest fires. Peat oxidation from these pressures is leading to GHG emissions of 1.5 Gt CO2 per year.

If unchecked, peat subsidence will form lowlands leading to flooding risks. Hence, improved scientific understanding, social awareness, economic empowerment of local communities and policy changes need to be synergized to manage and conserve this regional resource that is of global importance.