Past environmental change on Mauritius has been the focus of research with the Palaeoecology & Landscape Ecology group at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) for a number of years. This research has been lead by Erik de Boer and Henry Hooghiemstra and has already resulted in a number of key publications on the environmental history of the island (de Boer et al., 2013, 2014, 2015). One current past environmental change research project working on Mauritius is being undertaken by Jona de Krui; a student within the UvA BSc Biology program supervised by myself and Erik. Jona’s is working on a study site (modern day swamp) on the north-east of the island and is focused on improving our understanding changes in the:
- depositional environment (loss-on-ignition analysis),
- fire activity (macro-charcoal analysis), and
- vegetation (macro-fossils) over the last c. 1000 years.
Jona has now completed the analysis of all his samples and we are currently collating the data sets; however, a number of the macro-fossils which he has discovered remain unidentified. Below are images of the unknown macro-fossils if you have any suggestions on identifications please comment, or get in touch directly.
The extinction of the Dodo is an iconic example of the detrimental impact humans can have on their environment. Because so little is known about this enigmatic flightless bird, we gave it an image of an infinitely silly and ungainly creature. This image has been taken to full advantage by film studios Aardman (Pirates), Disney (Alice in Wonderland), and Blue Sky Studios (Ice Age). Recent scientific publications however show the dodo in a completely different light (Hume 2012; Winters et al. 2014). In the May edition of The Holocene we discuss how the Dodo was well-equipped to the tough challenges it faced in its natural environment.
Two weeks ago I attended the biannual International Biogeography Society (IBS) conference in Bayreuth, together with 600+ other people from more than 50 different countries. This IBS conference, my first IBS meeting, proved to be an exciting event during which I met scientists from many different disciplines and heard talks on cutting-edge biogeographical research.
The IBS conference was held in the Bavarian city of Bayreuth, in the middle of the biodiverse landscape of Upper Franconia. This landscape provided the training ground for Alexander von Humboldt, the founder of the field of biogeography. The 4-day conference included a wide variety of symposia and many, many posters. The conference dinner in the German Steam Train Museum was highly memorable. The conference was closed by a lecture from Daniel Simberloff, once a doctorate student of Edward O. Wilson, who received the Wallace Award for his outstanding contributions to invasion ecology.
I had a talk in the plenary symposium of ‘Ecosystem response to past climate change’, organized by David Nogués-Bravo and Francisco Rodríguez-Sánchez. The symposium covered the dangers of climate change to biodiversity and tried to assess if the range and rate of adaptation, migration, persistence, or extirpation, that are registered in deep-time records, palaeorecords, and the recent past, are adequate responses for predicted climate change in the future. I addressed this issue from the point of view of a small remote island, where migration is obviously a limiting factor. I showed how I reconstructed climate and its effect on island biota during the last 40,000 years using long-term palaeoecological records from Mauritius (de Boer et al, 2013 & 2014). These records show that different climate regimes result in different ecosystem response to climate change in the past. Local extirpation or population collapse of larger vertebrates was a natural phenomenon in the lowlands of Mauritius due to frequent climate extremes (I will discuss this in more detail in my next blog; de Boer, 2015). Despite these population collapses, island biota have always (in the timeframe of my records) survived natural climate change. Therefore, my take home message was not to focus on the effects of (future) climate change alone. Other key components of global change, such as invasive species and habitat destruction, are more imminent threats to the biodiversity of many islands. For more information on my research, including publications, click here.
More information on the IBS read on (below) or visit the IBS website or blog. All abstracts and other details of the IBS conference in Bayreuth can be found here. The next IBS meeting will take place in Salvador, Bahia (Brazil) in March 2017.