McMichael, C.N.H., Vink, V., Heijink, B.M., Witteveen, N.H., Piperno, D.R., Gosling, W.D. & Bush, M.B. (2023) Ecological legacies of past fire and human activity in a Panamanian forest. Plants, People, Planet5, 281-291. DOI: 10.1002/ppp3.10344
McMichael, C.N.H., Vink, V., Heijink, B.M., Witteveen, N.H., Piperno, D.R., Gosling, W.D. & Bush, M.B. (2022) Ecological legacies of past fire and human activity in a Panamanian forest. Plants, People, Planet. DOI: 10.1002/ppp3.10344
The University of Amsterdam “Environments Through Time” course is currently underway. This cross-disciplinary course is part of the MSc Biological Sciences program and also attracts many students from the MSc Earth Sciences. During the course students gain an understanding of the importance of having a long-term (centennial to millennial) context to understanding environmental problems, and how datasets can be generated that are relevant to these timescales. To gain an understanding of uncertainty in reconstructing past environmental change students conduct a re-analysis of previously published datasets (such as those archived in Neotoma) and assess if the findings of those papers was robust. To do this students develop skills in data mining, Bayesian probability modelling, multi-variate statistical analysis, and change-point analysis. At the end of the course students have gained experience in the critical evaluation of the scientific literature, transferable numerical skills, and a greater appreciation of Earth history and past environmental change.
The 2022 edition of the Environments Through Time course is taught by:
If you would like to learn more about past environmental change and its relevance to ongoing societal, climatic and ecological change sign up for the MSc Biological Sciences or MSc Earth Sciences and take this course. If this course sparks further your interest in exploring past environmental change then further opportunities exist to take on masters projects in this field with our team.
With all the horror chaos in the world, science doesn’t seem like the most important thing. I forgot all about my paper, until I received an email, that… the first chapter of my PhD is published! Some positive news I would like to share with you.
If you think about a stereotypical scientist, hidden in a lab, investigating every detail of a tiny thing…. that is great description of what I was doing!
This project will increase our understanding of how past disturbances have influenced the biodiversity and structure of Amazonian rainforests. The coming years, we will work on reconstructing past fire and vegetation history of forest plots in Amazonia, and how that history relates to modern biomass and modern carbon dynamics. ALPHA is important for forest conservation, because results can be used to prioritize land for conservation. ALPHA results will also give an estimation of the Amazonian rainforests’ ability to sequester carbon, which is important for global carbon models. dr. C.N.H. McMichael received an ERC grant to research ALPHA in Amazonia together with 2 PhD students, 1 post-doc, 2 technicians and a senior-staff. At the beginning of March, the positions were filled, and our team was complete. But then COVID-19 happened… and our team was spread over continents!
To keep ALPHA going, we started with weekly virtual lab meetings. Because these fruitful discussions are online, other researchers soon joined from the US, UK and Jamaica. It is not your average “vrijmibo”, but very fun and a nice way to stay connected! One of the papers we have discussed is the “Asynchronous carbon sink saturation in African and Amazonian tropical forests” from Hubau et al (2020).
In 2015, Brienen et al. published an article about the growth and mortality of trees in Amazonian rainforests for the period of 1985 to 2015. Their results showed a decline of the carbon sink in Amazonian forests.
Now, Hubau et al. (2020) added results from African forest plots and compared the net carbon sink of the African and Amazonian forests. Instead of a long-term decline, African forests showed a stable carbon sink. The difference in their carbon sink was because more trees died in Amazonia, but not in African forests. But since 2010, a decline is also visible in the carbon sink of African forests. This suggests that the two forests have a different ‘saturation’ point in the carbon they can storage.
A statistical model with CO2, temperature, drought and forest dynamics was created to predict the carbon changes of the forests over time. This model predicts that the carbon sink of African forests will show a gradual decline and the carbon sink of Amazonian forests will decline fast.
Overall, this paper highlights that our rainforests may not be the carbon sink we had thirty years ago. We will need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sooner, if we want to limit global warming. Also, this paper showed how important forest dynamics are to accurately model and predict the carbon storage of Amazonia. Hopefully, the ALPHA research project will make a contribution to this!