New literature review published open access:

Flantua, S.G.A., Hooghiemstra, H., Vuille, M., Behling, H., Carson, J.F., Gosling, W.D., Hoyos, I., Ledru, M.P., Montoya, E., Mayle, F., Maldonado, A., Rull, V., Tonello, M.S., Whitney, B.S. & Gonzalez-Arango, C. (2016) Climate variability and human impact in South America during the last 2000 years: Synthesis and perspectives from pollen records. Climate of the Past 12, 483-523. doi: 10.5194/cp-12-483-2016

Women in science

em-thumbby Encarni Montoya

First of all, I would like to clarify that the next post is just my personal opinion, not related to any institution or colleague involved in my research. Spoiler alert: there is nothing written here that I have not commented with any research colleague, don’t expect to find here any revelation. However, it is hard to believe the scarcity of notes published about this topic from the people who suffer it, making more difficult to find comprehension outside the scientific community, and even sometimes from inside.

This morning, a friend that works in the European Commission in Brussels has congratulated me because it seems that today (11th February) is the International Day of Women in Science. Well, it is a completely valid congratulation as I am a woman and I work in science. I am also aware that making an international day of pretty much anything is a very fashionable thing to do nowadays. However, besides honouring past figures, I am not really sure what this celebration is about and I would like to express my personal opinion on the subject. Moreover, this piece has a particular focus on my own experience of science in my country of origin, Spain.

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Theses rush at The Open University

Hi palaeo-people!!

Alice Kennedy (far right) celebrating post-viva examination.

Alice Kennedy (far right) celebrating post-viva examination.

It is been a while since the Milton Keynes’s part of the group have manifested in the blog. The main reason is that we have been a bit busy basically…submitting theses!!!!

So this very short post is to congratulate Hayley Keen, Frazer Bird and Alice Kennedy for their recent handing in during the last two months and to celebrate that we have a new doctor in the group!!! Alice defended her thesis on 14th May, having as tribunal Prof. John Marshall (Southampton), Dr Phil Sexton (Open University) and Dr Sarah Sherlock (Open University). Next viva will be Hayley’s on 28th May (exam panel: Dr Dunia Urrego [Exeter], Prof. David Gowing [Open University], and Dr Mark Brandon [Open University]). Frazer will be defending his research next 25th June in front of Dr Pete Langdon (Southampton), Dr Neil Edwards (Open University), and Dr Sarah Sherlock (Open University).

Well done guys, this has been hard work and we are sure that your projects will have amazing contributions to high quality research!

6th Workshop on Non-Pollen Palynomorphs

POSTER: Non-Pollen Palynomorphs in Ecuador: Starting from scratch

OUR POSTER: Non-Pollen Palynomorphs in Ecuador: Starting from scratch

Tallinn University
18-20 June 2014

Last month I had the opportunity of attending the 3-days non-pollen palynomorphs (NPP) workshop that was held at the Tallinn University, Estonia. It was perfectly organised by Tiiu Koff and Egle Avi among other members of the university, as it was a join workshop of Cladocera remains (XII Subfossil Cladocera workshop; 16-18th June) and NPP (18-20th June). Unfortunately, I was just present in the NPP workshop, so my comments will be focus on it.

With around 40 participants, we greatly enjoyed the discussions that came up about the state-of-the-art of this broad and interesting proxy and its implications for archaeology, palaeolimnology, and different aspects of ecology like human landscape management, biodiversity and conservation, or community assemblages. Current methodological problems like taxonomy, standardisation of lab techniques, etc., were also debated.

Opening and key lectures were from Bas van Geel and Emilie Gauthier, showing the development of this discipline over the last 40 years, and a great example of multi-proxy project aimed to study the human arrival and impact in Greenland respectively. Besides oral and poster presentations, last day there was a microscope session, very useful for sharing knowledge and uncertainties! In our specific case, Will, Hayley and I contributed with a poster titled “Non-pollen palynomorphs in Ecuador: starting from scratch”.

Personally, among the things I most like from the NPP meetings is the friendly and close environment, where everyone is more than glad to help others, regardless the experience. Following this feeling of small and scattered group of people dealing with the same issues, we used to do a final remark session every workshop raising the advances and inconveniences found so far, updating our NPP papers repository (managed by Antonella Miola), and addressing future directions as a group (for instance, we have now our own project in ResearchGate, thanks to Lyudmila Shumilovskikh!). In this particular workshop, I was very happy when I found out that Tallinn University has a green policy (paper free), and they replaced book abstracts etc., by iPads to follow the workshop schedule.

Although these meetings are normally biannual, next conference location and date is yet to be decided, but we hope to have the chance to join this very friendly and supporting community again. In addition, there will be a NPP session in the next European Palaeobotany and Palynology congress, tobe held in University of Padova (Italy), next August 2014. We encourage people with all kind of experience (or lack of) to attend further events.

In the news:

First Farmers Were Also Sailors, by Michael Balter in Science.

John Bostock: The man who ‘discovered’ hay fever, by Justin Parkinson in BBC News Magazine.

DNA study shows yeti is real (sort of) – and Oxford scientist prepares expedition to find it, by Adam Withnall in The Independent.

Tibetan altitude gene inherited ‘from extinct species’, by Paul Rincon BBC News Website

Scientific articles:

Bonatelli, I.A.S., Perez, M.F., Peterson, A.T., Taylor, N.P., Zappi, D.C., Machado, M.C., Koch, I., Pires, A.H.C. & Moraes, E.M. (2014) Interglacial microrefugia and diversification of a cactus species complex: phylogeography and palaeodistributional reconstructions for Pilosocereus aurisetus and allies. Molecular Ecology, 23, 3044-3063.

Bush, M.B., Restrepo, A. and Collins, A.F. (2014) Galápagos history, restoration, and a shifted baseline. Restoration Ecology, 22, 3, 296-298.
Summary (Nick): A concise and pithy look at how a robust long-term ecological system can be transformed rapidly by human impact. The paper demonstrates how the fossil pollen record is fundamental if a near-natural vegetation state is to be restored to the Galápagos islands, to avoid restoration to a shifted baseline.

Froyd, C.A., Coffey, E.E.D., van der Knaap, W.O., van Leeuwen, J.F.N., Tye, A. & Willis, K.J. (2014) The ecological consequences of megafaunal loss: giant tortoises and wetland biodiversity. Ecology Letters, 17, 144-154.

Giguet-Covex, C., Pansu, J., Arnaud, F., Rey, P.-J., Griggo, C., Gielly, L., Domaizon, I., Coissac, E., David, F., Choler, P., Poulenard, J. & Taberlet, P. (2014) Long livestock farming history and human landscape shaping revealed by lake sediment DNA. Nat Commun, 5

Gillson, L. & Marchant, R. (2014) From myopia to clarity: sharpening the focus of ecosystem management through the lens of palaeoecology. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 29, 317-325.
Comment (Will): For a good example of feeding palaeoecology into management see Bush et al. above.

Montoya PhD thesis 2011

Montoya, E. (2011) Paleocology of the southern Gran Sabana (SE Venezuela) since the Late Glacial to the present. PhD Thesis, Department of Animal Biology, Plant Biology and Ecology, Unitersitat Autonoma de Barcelona.


EM Venezuela (2007)


This thesis is aimed to study the paleoecology of the southern Gran Sabana region (GS; SE Venezuela) since the Late Glacial to the present. This region is characterized nowadays by the occurrence of large extent of savannas in a climate suitable for rainforests. For this purpose, three sequences (two from peat bogs and one from lake sediments) have been analyzed for pollen and spores, non-pollen palynomorphs (NPP), and microscopic charcoal particles. Among the sequences analyzed, two of them are located currently within treeless savannas (Lakes Chonita and Encantada); whereas the third one is placed in the boundary between GS savannas and Amazon forests (El Paují). The Late Glacial interval of Lake Chonita was characterized by a shrubland that was replaced by a treeless savanna at the end of Younger Dryas (YD) and the onset of the Holocene, linked to the occurrence of regional fires since ca. 12.4 cal kyr BP. The beginning of local fires was dated synchronous with the vegetation replacement, ca. 11.7 cal kyr BP. A similar shrubland, though not identical, is located nowadays around 200 m elevation above the lake, so the replacement by surrounding savannas was interpreted as a probably upward displacement of the former vegetation and an increase in average temperatures of approximately 0.7 ‐1.5ºC. This section represents the oldest interval analyzed for GS so far, and the presence of fires during the Late Pleistocene is among the oldest fire records documented for northern South America. The peat bog records of Lake Encantada and El Paují showed the main vegetation trends of the last 8 cal kyr BP, which were characterized by the continuous occurrence of regional fires. In Lake Encantada, the presence of treeless savannas was reported during the whole interval analyzed as the dominant vegetation type, despite variations in forest abundance and composition taxa of the community also occurred. The vegetation changes in this record were interpreted as mainly due to climatic shifts until the Late Holocene. At El Paují, the occurrence of forests and savanna/forest mosaics was reported during the same interval, and fire was postulated to have been the major driver of the vegetation shifts. In this sequence, a treeless savanna was not recorded as the dominant vegetation of the landscape until the last millennia, and the presence of two different indigenous cultures was postulated as responsible of the shifts in fire regime registered, with an interval of human land abandonment between them. This interval was characterized by the cessation of fires, and the establishment of a secondary dry forest. The Late Holocene was characterized, in the three sequences studied, by a sudden increase of fires, which likely favored the expansion of savannas and the establishment of the present GS landscape.

The join interpretation of the records presented in this thesis, together with previous analyses in the region, highlighted some key aspects for understanding the main trends of GS landscape and vegetation, e.g., the appearance and establishment of morichales (Mauritia palm stands typical of current southern GS landscapes) has been restricted to the last two millennia, synchronous with the increase in fire incidence. Moreover, it has been possible to gather empirical evidence for testing some previous hypothesis regarding GS. For example, the proposal of an extended aridity prior the Holocene has been rejected, whereas the hypothesis about the postglacial expansion of morichales has been supported. In this sense, with all the available information to date, some suggestions have been proposed: (i) Climate and fire have been the major forcing factors operating in the GS; (ii) During the Late Glacial and the beginning of the Early Holocene, the landscape of southern GS was likely formed by a mosaic of forests, shrubs, and savannas, without the current supremacy of the last vegetation type, which only established during the last 2 cal kyr BP onwards; (iii) Some general climatic trends have been inferred for the study area, as for example an increase in average temperatures around the Late Glacial/Early Holocene transition, a dry interval from 8 to 5 cal kyr BP, and a wetter phase during the Mid-Holocene centered around 4 cal kyr BP; (iv) The establishment of Mauritia in the region has been likely driven by a synergism between biogeographical, climatic and anthropogenic factors, as well as the likely pyrophilous nature of this palm given its synchronous appearance with the increase of fires; (v) The settlement of the modern indigenous culture (Pemón) occurred at least since around ca. 2000 cal yr BP onwards, 1500 yr earlier than previously thought, but previous human presence in the region has been also documented; and (vi) The fire activity observed in the long-term has caused a huge impact on GS landscape.

Supervisor: Dr Valenti Rull (Botanic Institute of Barcelona); Tutor: Dr Iñigo G. de la Cerda (Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona)

Examined by: Prof. Jose S. Carrion (Univesity of Murcia), Dr Toby Pennington (Royal Botanic Garden of Ediburgh), Prof. Francisco LLoret (Autonomous University of Barcelona), Dr Fred Stauffer, (Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques Ville de Geneve), and Dr Walter Finsinger (CNRS).

To access to this thesis PF file from the library service of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, please click here.

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