Research: Dr Matt Saunders

The papyrus plant (Cyperus papyrus) is endemic to flooded wetland areas in East Africa. Papyrus is an incredibly important plant to local ecosystems. They are also highly productive plants whose plentiful biomass when harvested can be used in construction and local crafts. They are also a source of bio-energy and provide a habitat for fish breeding. The growing plants can be used to filter and reduce the flow and toxic effects of industrial, agricultural and domestic waste water.

Papyrus wetlands are peat-forming and are therefore important sinks for carbon storage,  helping to take carbon out of the atmosphere and slow down climate change. However, these same Papyrus wetland systems also produce methane, another significant greenhouse gas, which can be transported through the growing papyrus plants into the atmosphere.

At the garden, a special experimental system called a mesocosm – a group of plants grown under controlled conditions to simulate their natural growing conditions – has been set up to monitor greenhouse gas emissions from the papyrus. Matt is investigating how papyrus grows and uses water, and how the plants in this important tropical wetland system facilitate the emission of greenhouse gases. Conor Hughes, a final year undergraduate Environmental Science student, will be measuring rates of methane emission from different age classes of papyrus culm (growing stems) to assess the impact of papyrus on atmospheric methane concentrations.