PCRG PhD studentship opportunity

December 16, 2013

Funded PhD studentship opportunity, October 2014 start
Department of Environment, Earth & Ecosystems, The Open Univeristy
Central England NERC Training Alliance (CENTA)
Closing date for applications : 31/01/2014

Past tropical vegetation stability: forest-savannah dynamics in tropical West Africa

William D. Gosling & Phil Jardine

  • Maintain a modern pollen monitoring network in lowland tropical West Africa
  • Reconstruct past vegetation change from fossil pollen records
  • Identify signature of approaching tipping points
  • Field work in tropical Africa (Ghana)

 Over the coming century temperature and precipitation regimes in the tropics are projected to alter as a consequence of human induced climate change. In the recent geological past (Quaternary, last 2.6 million years) tropical vegetation has been subjected to repeated warming/cooling and drying/wetting events through multiple glacial-interglacial cycles. The Lake Bosumtwi sediment core from lowland tropical West Africa spans the last c. 1 million years. The vegetation and climate record contained within the Bosumtwi sediments offers a unique opportunity to assess the impact of glacial-interglacial transitions on lowland tropical vegetation. Previous work by researchers at The Open University has revealed six major forest stages in the last 500,000 years1. In this project fossil pollen analysis will be used to generate high resolution vegetation records across two forest-savannah, and two savannah-forest transitions to identify the pattern of vegetation change. To enhance interpretation of the fossil records this studentship will also build on an on-going pollen monitoring program from Ghana. Annual collection of pollen traps from wet evergreen forest, semi-deciduous seasonal forest and savannah settings will provide insight into how modern forest and savannah systems function.

 The main objectives of this project are:

  1. To use fossil pollen analysis of the Lake Bosumtwi cores to generate high resolution fossil pollen records across four vegetation transitions related to glacial-interglacial cycles.
  2. To characterize the present day pattern of vegetation in the lowland tropics using pollen traps2-3.
  3. To identify characteristic signatures of vegetation change as tipping points are approached.

 This project will provide training in tropical pollen analysis and experience of working in lowland tropical vegetation. It will integrate modern and past environmental change data to provide an assessment of long-term (>50 year) vegetation change.

 A successful applicant will become part of the international research environment and thriving postgraduate community within the department and the wider Central England NERC Training Alliance (CENTA). Comprehensive postgraduate training will be provided, including: research techniques, scientific methods, information technology, communication and interpersonal skills. Funding for this project is available on a competitive basis through the CENTA for further information visit www.centa.org.uk.

 If you would like to apply or have any queries about this project please contact the first named supervisor either by email William.Gosling@open.ac.uk or by writing to the address above enclosing a brief letter of motivation, a full academic CV and the names and addresses of three academic referees.

References: [1] Miller, C.S. & Gosling, W.D. (online) Quaternary forest associations in lowland tropical West Africa. Quaternary Science Reviews [2] Gosling, W.D., Miller, C.S. & Livingstone, D.A. (2013) Atlas of the tropical west african pollen flora. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology, 199, 1-136 [3] Gosling, W.D., Mayle, F.E., Killeen, T.J., Siles, M., Sanchez, L. & Boreham, S. (2003) A simple and effective methodology for sampling modern pollen rain in tropical environments. The Holocene, 13, 613-618

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