Rates and spatial variability of peat subsidence in Acacia plantation and forest landscapes in Sumatra, Indonesia

Chris D. Evans, Jennifer M. Williamson, Febrio Kacaribu, Denny Irawan, Yogi Suardiwerianto, Muhammad Fikky Hidayat, Ari Laurén, Susan E. Page

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


Many peatlands in Europe and North America have been developed for agriculture for over a century, whilst in Southeast Asia development has largely occurred since 1990. Cultivation of drained peatlands now supports the livelihoods of large numbers of people, and the ongoing economic development of countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. However, peat subsidence linked to plantation drainage represents both an environmental and a socio-economic challenge, associated with elevated CO2 emissions, impacts on adjacent forest habitat, and long-term changes in plantation drainability. Whilst the fundamental challenges presented by peat subsidence are broadly recognised, the long-term rates and the potential for mitigation or avoidance of subsidence remain uncertain. We analysed over 2000 site-years of subsidence measurements from 312 sites in Sumatra, Indonesia, collected under Acacia pulpwood plantation and adjacent native forest, representing the largest peat subsidence dataset published to date. Subsidence averaged 4.3 cm yr−1 in the Acacia plantations, and extended at least 300 m into adjacent forest. Mean water table depth (WTD) was the best predictor of subsidence rate in both plantation and forest areas. We did not find conclusive evidence that subsidence was intrinsically faster under Acacia plantation than under native forest or (by comparison with previous studies) oil palm plantations for the same level of drainage. Our results suggest that raising average WTDs to the Indonesian Government's 40 cm target could – if practically and economically viable means of achieving this can be developed – reduce current plantation subsidence rates by 25–30%. Whilst some degree of peat subsidence under any form of plantation management may be unavoidable, these reductions would – if achieved at scale – both increase the economic lifetime of the plantations, and simultaneously deliver reductions in CO2 emissions of national and global significance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)410-421
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2019


  • Carbon
  • Drainage
  • Greenhouse gases
  • Organic soils
  • Subsidence
  • Tropical peat


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