Loughlin PhD Thesis 2018

July 25, 2018
nicholasloughlin

Nick recovers a sediment core for his PhD project.

Nick Loughlin

Loughlin, N.J.D. (2017) Changing human impact on the montane forests of the eastern Andean flank, Ecuador. PhD Thesis. School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, The Open University.

Abstract:

The montane cloud forests of South America are some of the most biodiverse habitats in the world, whilst also being especially vulnerable to climate change and human disturbance.

Today much of this landscape has been transformed into a mosaic of secondary forest and agricultural fields. This thesis uses palaeoecological proxies (pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs, charcoal, organic content) to interpret ecosystem dynamics during the late Quaternary, unravelling the vegetation history of the landscape and the relationship between people and the montane cloud forest of the eastern Andean flank of Ecuador. Two new sedimentary records are examined from the montane forest adjacent to the Río Cosanga (Vinillos) and in the Quijos Valley (Huila). These sites characterise the natural dynamics of a pre-human arrival montane forest and reveal how vegetation responded during historical changes in local human populations.

Non-pollen palynomorphs (NPPs) are employed in a novel approach to analyse a forest cover gradient across these sites. The analysis identifies a distinctive NPP assemblage connected to low forest cover and increased regional burning. Investigation into the late Pleistocene Vinillos sediments show volcanic activity to be the primary landscape-scale driver of ecosystem dynamics prior to human arrival, influencing montane forest populations but having little effect on vegetation composition.

Lake sediments at Huila from the last 700 years indicate the presence of pre-Hispanic peoples, managing and cultivating an open landscape. The subsequent colonization of the region by Europeans in the late 1500’s decimated the indigenous population, leading to the abandonment of the region in conjunction with an expansion in forest cover ca. 1588 CE. After approximately 130 years of vegetation recovery, montane cloud forest reached a stage of structural maturity comparable to that seen in the pre-human arrival forest. The following 100 years (1718-1822 CE) of low human population and minimal human impact in the region is proposed as a shifted ecological baseline for future restoration and conservation goals. This ‘cultural ecological baseline’ features a landscape that retains many of the ecosystem service provided by a pristine montane forest, while retaining the cultural history of its indigenous people within the vegetation. Continue Reading

Tropical Botany in Belize: Part 2 – Las Cuevas

April 1, 2015
nicholasloughlin

Tropical Botany in Belize

By Nick Loughlin

Las Cueavs Forest Reseach Station (Photograph by Anna Turbelin)

Figure 1: Las Cueavs Forest Reseach Station (Photograph by Anna Turbelin)

As mentioned in my last post I have recently returned from a 2 week field course in tropical botany run by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) in conjunction with their MSc course on the ‘Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants’. The field course allowed for 10 NERC funded PhD students in relevant fields to accompany the MSc students out to Belize to learn a host of valuable skills in tropical botany and ecology.

To find out what we did read on…

Continue Reading

Tropical Botany in Belize: Part 1 – An Introduction

February 12, 2015
nicholasloughlin

Sunrise in Belize (Photograph by Anna Turbelin)

Sunrise in Belize (Photograph by Anna Turbelin)

Tropical Botany in Belize
by Nick Loughlin

Getting back to the UK after fieldwork is always jarring and this time is certainly no different, the change from 32°C days walking through the savanna and lowland forests of Belize to the -2°C early mornings walking through snow in Milton Keynes is an abrupt transition. I have recently returned from a 2 week field course in tropical botany run by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) in conjunction with their MSc course on the ‘Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants’. The field course allowed for 10 NERC funded PhD students in relevant fields to accompany the MSc students out to Belize to learn a host of valuable skills in tropical botany and ecology. During our time in Belize we visited 2 main locations, Las Cuevas Research Station within the Chiquibul forest reserve and the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area (RBCMA), in my next two posts I will briefly cover the places we visited and the botany we learned.

A very small selection of the plants we sampled and identified during the course (Photographs by Anna Turbelin and Nick Loughlin)

A very small selection of the plants we sampled and identified during the course (Photographs by Anna Turbelin and Nick Loughlin)

Before I get going I would just like to thank all of the staff from the RBGE who led the field course, (David, Louis, Tiina, Becky, Chris and Helen) their ability to teach the major characteristics of 70+ tropical families to many of us who are not botanists or taxonomists in an engaging way was astounding, although I don’t believe I will ever be able to identify a Euphorbiaceae from its vegetative characteristics. Also thanks to the students from the MSc course who were great fun, if any of you move away from botany and taxonomy and want more of an idea about the world of tropical palaeoecology, give me a shout.

On our way to see the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich (Photograph by Anna Turbelin)

On our way to see the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich (Photograph by Anna Turbelin)

The Anthropocene: A governance perspective

March 31, 2014
nicholasloughlin

EarthSystemGovernanceNick Loughlin on:

Biermann, F. (2014) The Anthropocene: A governance perspective. The Anthropocene Review, 1, 57-61.

This comment piece looks at the Anthropocene as a political construct and a tool to constrain the concept of ‘Earth System Governance’ within the social sciences. To quote the author ‘the Anthropocene is political’ and this is indeed the case when attempting to organise disparate and often conflicting bodies into a global community that can guide society to a way of working within nature, but it is also a biological, ecological and geological term and as such a scientific rational to understanding our Anthropocene is required not just a political one.

The writer succinctly demonstrates the interdependence of countries, social groups and global organisations within the modern era along with the intergenerational aspect of a range of social and environmental issues. However it places the Anthropocene as a marketing tool targeted at a political audience rather than a scientific term that denotes a currently unverified chronostratigraphic unit.

It is in no doubt that humans are a significant driving force behind changes to the biosphere and the concept of ‘Earth System Governance’ as described within this paper demonstrates the wide ranging global issues that require consensus.

Ecuador Fieldwork : Lake Huila

January 14, 2014
nicholasloughlin

Lake Huila

Lake Huila

So we’re back from a hot and humid Ecuador to the joys of a British winter. Ecuador is an amazing country and the diversity of the flora and fauna surpasses anything that I have experienced before. Continue Reading

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