Mapping Ancient Africa: Video of seminar 13

May 19, 2023

The thirteenth Mapping Ancient Africa seminar was delivered by Andrea Manica on the 18th May 2023. In the seminar Andrea introduced the pastclim R package and gave examples of how it can be applied to address questions related to human evolution and dispersal.

Details of this seminar can be found here. You can find more Mapping Ancient Africa seminar videos on the “Ecology of the Past” YouTube channel.

To find out more and keep up to date with new insights from this research visit the project web site here.


Mapping Ancient Africa: Seminar 13

May 17, 2023

The thirteenth Mapping Ancient Africa online seminar will take place on 18 May 2023 (17:00 CEST). 

The seminar will be delivered via Zoom. The link for the seminar can be obtained from the MAA Slack channel or by contacting the chair of this seminar (William Gosling). If you want to know more about the Mapping Ancient Africa project visit our web pages and please do not hesitate to get in contact if you want to get involved.


Bison of the Maashorst (Netherlands)

May 17, 2023

On Tuesday 16 May 2023 a small team of researchers from the Institute for Biodiversity & Ecosystem Dynamics (University of Amsterdam) visited the Maashorst (Netherlands) to visited an area “re-wilded” with European Bison (Bison bonasus). In addition to the bison the area is also now home to Tauros and Exmoor Ponies The purpose of the trip was to collect soil surface samples to examine for dung fungal spores. Certain fungi grow only on the dung of herbivores and the spores of these fungi can be preserved in the sedimentary record (for more information see Lee et al., 2022). Analysis of dung fungal spore diversity through the sedimentary record can therefore provide insights into the changes in the amount of dung (animals) in the landscape in the past. The purpose of this sampling effort was to see if we can quantify how many, and what type, of spores are representative of this group of bison. This information will help us to be able to interpret ancient records of fungal spores in more detail.

Special thanks to Maurice van Doorn (Gemeente Maashorst) for showing us around.

Engaging people with pollen data

May 11, 2023

Educational activities include use of the Neotoma Database

On Wednesday 11 May 2023 I was delighted to give a online seminar for the African Pollen Database group on integrating palaeoecological data into educational programs. Thanks to Sarah Ivory, Chris Kiahtipes, and Alejandra Domic for inviting me and organizing this series.

I covered topics including the motivation of students, designing a MSc level course, and setting up BSc/MSc research projects. My presentation was centered around my personal experience of running courses for BSc Biology and Future Plant Studies students (Palaeoecology), and for MSc Earth Science and Biological Science students (Environments Through Time) at the University of Amsterdam. It was nice to get a wider perspective from discussion with the audience and to pick up some additional ideas and advice. If you have other thoughts on this topic please feel free to comment on this post.

The entire African Pollen Database online seminar series is now available to watch via the associated YouTube channel. So to find more click here.

APD workshop : African pollen data and education

May 4, 2023

In addition to researchers, many of us are also educators!  William Gosling (this blog’s esteemed owner) will be leading a discussion of how to use the African Pollen Database (APD) for outreach and education! Please join us Wed, May 10 at 9am EDT (time zone converter). Please email for the zoom link and instructions.

At this workshop, Will is going to focus on:

  • Why incorporating paleoecology in education is important.
  • Some theory about pedagogy related to paleoecology.
  • Discussion of specific ideas targeted at different groups (e.g. undergraduates, informal education).

Do you have exercises and modules that you have incorporated paleoecological data into?  If so, we’d love to hear some of your ideas as well!

For more information, check out the schedule below and see past workshops here.

#Train2EGU and back

April 27, 2023

The European Geophysical Union General Assembly is taking place in Vienna this week (23-28 April 2023). Thousands of scientists from around the world have come together at the Austria Centre to discuss the latest discoveries related to our understanding of how the Earth system functions. This year I choose to travel to EGU by train from Amsterdam. It was not until later that I discovered that #Train2EGU was a “thing” (see photos below). I was not able to stay in Vienna for the whole congress so I am now back in Amsterdam. However, my time at the congress was excellent:

  • Listening to a wide range of talks (including sessions on past environmental change in Africa, the role of fire in shaping ecosystems and landscapes, and how we can develop new methods to extract information from sedimentary records),
  • Holding in-person scientific meetings with colleagues to try and figure out what the datasets mean on various projects (mainly focused on wiggly lines generated from long lake records), and
  • Meeting up with friends and colleagues who I had not seen for many years…

I hope all those still at EGU are having fun. While I see the necessity of scientists to get together in the same physical space to advance our field I also see the tension with the environmental impacts of travel. Getting together at big congresses such as this maybe the most travel efficient way to solve this conundrum? Anyway, I hope at least people think about their travel plans and I for one enjoyed by #Train2EGU experience; all connections met and – apart from 1 hour of very crowded conditions after leaving Frankfurt – a very pleasant experience in which I could easily work / sleep / eat.

My route out: Bussum – Amsterdam – Frankfurt – Vienna. My route back: Vienna – Frankfurt – Utrecht – Hilversum – Bussum.

APD Workshop: R-Ratepol

April 19, 2023

Ondrej Mottl and Suzette Flantua will be presenting an African Pollen Database (APD) practical tutorial about working with paleoecological data in R ! Please join us Wed, April 26 at 9am EDT (time zone converter). Please email for the zoom link and instructions.

At this workshop, you will learn to use the new Ratepol package (info here and here):

  • search for APD sites from Neotoma in R
  • begin making age models
  • calculate rates of change for vegetation from pollen records

For more information, check out the schedule below and see past workshops here.

Mapping Ancient Africa: Video of Seminar 12

April 14, 2023

The seminar delivered by Emma Mbua (National Museums of Kenya) on the 13th April 2023 was the twelfth in the Mapping Ancient Africa series. The seminar highlighted new finds from archaeological sites in eastern Africa that have yielded bones of various animals, including early humans.

Details of this seminar can be found here. You can find more Mapping Ancient Africa seminar videos on the “Ecology of the Past” YouTube channel.

To find out more and keep up to date with new insights from this research visit the project web sit here.


African insights

March 30, 2023

Plant Ecology & Diversity

Having recently traveled to South Africa as part of the Landscape Dynamics field course run by our graduate school, and to be thinking again about trying to obtain funding to further research in Africa, I thought it might be fun to turn to the journals in which I have an editorial hand (Plant Ecology & Diversity, Vegetation History & Archaeobotany, and The Holocene) and see what new work was coming out on African ecosystem dynamics. From each of these journals I have selected two recent papers to highlight here.

The papers come from across the continent and all have a component of the ecology of the past, but they range in focus from developing methods to extract new insights about past ecological change (Le Moyne et al., 2023) through to the application of our understanding of past ecosystems to the management of conservation areas (Wilkinson et al., 2022).

Vegetation History & Archaeobotany

The study by Le Moyne et al. (2023) examined modern reference material of nine grass species to determine how they might be better identified in the archaeological and palaeoecological record from the phytoliths they produce. Three of the studies use different lines of evidence of past ecological dynamics to explore change over the last few thousands of years.

  • Champion et al. (2023) shed light on past agricultural practices in western Africa (Nigeria) through the examination of macro-botanical evidence from 50 archaeological sites and dating back c. 3500 years, hypothesizing a new route for the spread of pearl millet out of the central Sahara into the central Nigerian savannahs.
  • Prader et al. (2023) present a c. 4000 year geochemical, palynological and and charcoal record from Table Mountain National Park in South Africa, showing changes in the abundance of fynbos and forest plants and how this was modified by people.
  • Hildebrand et al. (2022) collated multiple lines of evidence of past environmental change from eastern Africa to assess changes in human activity during and after the African Humid Period (15,000-5000 years ago), highlighting the complex relationship between changes in human resource acquisition practice (fishing, hunting, gathering, and pastoralism) and environmental change.

The longest timescale perspective is provided by Milton et al. (2022) who investigated plant speciation in the Namib Desert. They combined a phylogenetic, morphometric and experimental genetic approaches to explore the evolutionary history of Senecio flavus and S. engerianus and produce palaeo-distribution models. From these data they suggest that the wider ranged species (S. flavus) is in fact derived from the smaller ranged parent (S. engerianus) and that this separation was caused by aridification during the Pleistocene.

The final paper, Wilkinson et al. (2022), take evidence for past abundances of elephants and compare them with the abundances in national parks today. They argue that modern elephant densities in national parks could be higher than the historical levels and that this could be detrimental to the flora and other fauna in the parks.


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APD workshop: neotoma2

March 29, 2023

Socorro Dominquez and Simon Goring will be presenting an African Pollen Database (APD) practical tutorial about working with paleoecological data in R ! Please join us Wed, April 5 at 10am EST. Please email for the zoom link.

At this workshop, you will learn to:

  • search for APD sites and filter data from Neotoma in R
  • make simple pollen diagrams
  • do simple analysis like look at change in taxa across time

For more information, check out the schedule below and see past workshops here.

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