My name is Majoi Nascimento, I just started a new job as a postdoc researcher at the University of Amsterdam working on an ERC project named ALPHA (Assessing Legacies of Past Human Activities in Amazonia with Crystal McMichael). The main focus of ALPHA is to investigate the role of human disturbance and recovery processes that have occurred over the past few millennia in Amazonia, and their effects on the biodiversity and carbon dynamics that are observed there today. To do a good job, it is important that we understand the concepts of disturbance and recovery, but also the processes that underlie forest resilience. That is the reason why we decided to read and discuss this work from Adolf et al. 2020 “Identifying drivers of forest resilience in long-term records from the Neotropics”, published in the journal Biology Letters, during one of our lab meetings.
van der Sande, M.T., Bush, M.B., Urrego, D.H., Silman, M., Farfan-Rios, W., García Cabrera, K., Shenkin, A., Malhi, Y., McMichael, C.H. & Gosling, W.D. (2020) Modern pollen rain predicts shifts in plant trait composition but not plant diversity along the Andes-Amazon elevational gradient. Journal of Vegetation Science DOI: 10.1111/jvs.12925.
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!
In spite of the challenges and uncertainties that the larger scientific community is currently facing, I am delighted and humbled to accept one of the British Ecological Society’s Ecologist in Africa research grant for 2020. The grant will support my historical ecology project whose main goal is to apply palaeoecological and archaeological proxies to investigate the extent of anthropogenic impacts on vegetation structure and composition of one of the Kenyan Central highlands before, during, and after the colonial period.
The Aberdare range forest provide an ideal setting for this study because they have been farmed by local populations since long before colonialism, and they were heavily impacted during colonial times because of their fertile soils. This pilot project aims to reveal the land-use and land-cover dynamics of the Aberdare range forest, and it is hoped that eventually similar studies will be undertaken in other parts of the Kenyan highland forests.
Luckily, in spite of these trying times, we are allowed to continue our research in Amsterdam and on the Veluwe to determine the effects of air pollution on airborne pollen grains. Unfortunately for us (but generally perhaps one of the few silver linings of this situation), the COVID-19 lockdown has largely eliminated our main variable of interest; air pollution.
With traffic in the city at a minimum, any chemical differences might not be as pronounced between the city and rural areas. However, this may actually provide us with a unique opportunity to get a baseline of the pollen chemistry in Amsterdam with relatively little pollution. This baseline may also be of interest to projects working on urban air quality and greenifying urban spaces, such as the projects in the Amsterdam Knowledge Mile Park, which is included amongst our sampling locations.
For more about our project on pollen and pollution in the Netherlands see other posts:
As part of the ongoing reconfiguration of the journal Plant Ecology & Diversity the Editorial Board has now be organised into five themes, each covering different aspects of the journals scope, to streamline the process. Each theme has a Subject Editor who feeds articles to the team of Associate Editors. The themes and Subject Editors are:
Biogeography (F. Xavier Picó – Estación Biológica de Doñana (EBD-CSIC), Spain)
Environment & Plant Functioning (John Grace, University of Edinburgh, UK)
Evolution & Systematics (Richard Abbott, University of St Andrews, UK)
Global Change & Vegetation Dynamics (William Gosling, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands)
If your research is relevant to an international audience and fits into one of these themes please consider submitting your research for our consideration. To find out more about how to submit, the Aims & Scope and Editorial Board please visit the journal web site, by clicking here.
In the coming weeks lots of pollen can be collected. Due to the nice, sunny weather birch trees are in full flower and release their pollen into the air. This is of course not so good news for the individuals sensitized to the pollen of birch because they can suffer from hay fever symptoms.
Next to birch also the ash trees are flowering. The black buds of the ash branches have bursted, releasing the purple anthers (first figure). Among those anthers you can see some that release their yellow pollen (second figure).
For more about our project on pollen and pollution in the Netherlands see other posts:
I am delighted to announce that a new volume of the classic book series “Palaeoecology of Africa“ is now under development. This new volume (hopefully number 35) will focus on “Quaternary Vegetation Dynamics” and build on recent initiatives to develop the “African Pollen Database”. The volume will be guest edited by Anne-Marie Lezine (LOCEAN), Louis Scott (University of the Free State) and myself, along side the series editor Jürgen Runge (Johann Wolfgang Goethe University). If you are interested to contribute please get in touch.
The Quaternary Vegetation Dynamics volume of the long-running Palaeoecology of Africa series will showcase palynological work from across the African continent and surrounding regions, and place this in the context of past climatic, human and evolutionary change. We are keen to use this opportunity to catalyse the archiving of previously published and new datasets into the open access online African Pollen Database. The volume will be published entirely open access online and will contain four types of manuscript: (i) Research papers, (ii) Data papers, (iii) Review papers, and (iv) Perspectives.
Calderón-Loor, M., Cuesta, F., Pinto, E. & Gosling, W.D. (2020) Carbon sequestration rates indicate ecosystem recovery following human disturbance in the equatorial Andes. PLOS ONE 15, e0230612. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0230612