British Ecological Society annual meeting 2016

bes_new_logo_2016The British Ecological Society (BES) annual meeting for 2016 has come to an end. It has seemed like a long week (and it is only Thursday) because it has been so action packed. For me it commenced on Sunday when I helped out with the introduction session for early career researchers (MSc, PhD and post-docs), and the marathon council meeting. I think the length, and intensity, of the council meeting highlighted the need for the structural review that our president, Sue Hartley, has just initiated. The main program commenced on Monday and has been mainly a mix of workshops, posters and talks, with a side order of special interest group meetings, carol singers, and a gala dinner.
I would like to highlight two of the scientific talks that stuck in my head in particular:

  1. Steven Sylvester “Shifting perspectives on natural ecosystems in the high Andes”; showed how remote regions of the high Andes may still contain the vestigaes of ‘pristine’ ecosystems dating from before human arrival, and
  2. Stefano Allesina “Higher-order interactions stabilize dynamics in a generalized rock-paper-scissors game”; showed (theoretically) how ecosystem complexity plays a role in ecosystem stability.

Nick-thumbAn excellent and exciting meeting was capped for me by my PhD student Nick Loughlin for being awarded the BES Public Engagement award! Well done Nick (@PalaeoNick).


Sylvester, S.P., Sylvester, M.D.P.V. & Kessler, M. (2014) Inaccessible ledges as refuges for the natural vegetation of the high Andes. Journal of Vegetation Science 25, 1225-1234. DOI: 10.1111/jvs.12176


Shining a light on fossil sunshine

Dr. Phil Jardine
Dr. Phil Jardine

An international team of scientists have reconstructed the longest ever record of past sunshine using pollen trapped in lake sediments collected in Ghana, Africa. The study published today in Scientific Reports enables us to understand past changes in solar input to the global system over the past 140,000 years. Previously we have had to rely upon computer models to mathematically determine past solar inputs to the Earth. “This work really is a first; being able to peer back in time to understand how the Sun has driven our global system over many of thousands of years is a very exciting prospect” said joint-lead author Dr. Phillip Jardine of The Open University.

The Sun is a key component of our natural environment, driving a multitude of processes at Earth’s surface, from photosynthesis generating energy within plants, through to global-scale circulation patterns in our oceans and atmosphere. Understanding more about how the Sun has behaved in the past, and the influence this had on Earth’s environment, will help scientists predict future climate change.

Dr. Jardine used a technique pioneered by one of his co-authors, Dr. Wesley Fraser of Oxford Brookes University, to determine past changes in solar input, specifically changes in ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Plants protect themselves from the harmful nature of ultraviolet radiation by incorporating a number of specific chemical compounds into their tissues that absorb and dissipate the energy of UV radiation. Pollen grains of flowering plants are also provided protection by these UV-absorbing chemicals, thus act as a long-term recorder of ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.

Pollen grains are readily trapped in lake sediments, where they can be preserved for millions of years. By extracting material from Lake Bosumtwi, Ghana, the pollen that was released by flowering plants thousands of years ago can be separated from the lake sediment and chemically analysed for UV-absorbing chemical compounds. It is this chemical signature within the ancient pollen grains that provides us with information about past levels of solar ultraviolet radiation.

“What we present here is a new opportunity to explore how the Earth has changed” said Dr. William Gosling (University of Amsterdam). “I am particularly excited about this because it will means that we can gain a better understanding of why vegetation changed in the past, and consequently this will allow us to anticipate better what the likely impacts of projected future climate change will be.”

This study is available now at

Jardine PE, Fraser WT, Lomax BH, Sephton MA, Shanahan TM, Miller CS & Gosling WD (2016) Pollen and spores as biological recorders of past ultraviolet irradiance. Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/srep39269

MSc Biological Sciences University of Amsterdam

UvAThe MSc Biological Sciences at the University of Amsterdam is open to international students (taught in English) and offers four ‘tracks’ so you can specialize to your particular interest:

In addition as part of this MSc degree you will conduct research projects and have opportunities for internships. For further information to click here or watch our recent webinar with the program coordinator Joost Duivenvoorden.

Job: Full Professor Earth Surface Science

ibedlogo-lowJob: Full Professor Earth Surface Science
Location: Institute for Biodiversity & Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam
Closing data: 04/01/2017

The Institute for Biodiversity & Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) at the University of Amsterdam currently has a vacancy for a Full Professor in Earth Surface Science. IBED is seeking to appoint a world leading scientist whose research and teaching skills compliment those that already exist within the Research Group of Earth Surface Science (ESS). Key themes within the ESS group are: biotic and abiotic interactions, biogeochemistry, geomorphology, and soil chemistry, biodiveristy and management. The work of the ESS group is closely related to other research groups within IBED, and in particular, the Palaeoecology & Landscape ecology (P&L) group which I lead.

For full details click here.

Job: Palaeoecology at VU Amsterdam

VU Amsterdam

The Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam currently has a vacancy for an Assistant Professor in Palaeoecology. The VU Amsterdam are looking for a specialist in palaeoecology, palynology and/or palaeobotany, with an interest in reconstructing climatic- and anthropogenic forcing of vegetation/landscape/hydrological change in the Quaternary. Experts employing palynological, macro-fossil, geochemical, and modelling techniques welcome.

The VU Amsterdam group have strong links with the Institute for Biodiversity & Ecosystem Dynamics (University of Amsterdam), including my Palaeoecology & Landscape Ecology group.

Deadline: 08 December 2016
Further details click here.

Latitudinal and altitudinal patterns of plant community diversity on mountain summits across the tropical Andes


Cuesta, F., Muriel, P., Llambí, L.D., Halloy, S., Aguirre, N., Beck, S., Carilla, J., Meneses, R.I., Cuello, S., Grau, A., Gámez, L.E., Irazábal, J., Jácome, J., Jaramillo, R., Ramírez, L., Samaniego, N., Suárez-Duque, D., Thompson, N., Tupayachi, A., Viñas, P., Yager, K., Becerra, M.T., Pauli, H. & Gosling, W.D. (2016) Latitudinal and altitudinal patterns of plant community diversity on mountain summits across the tropical Andes. Ecography. DOI: 10.1111/ecog.02567

Recent reading

Kissling, W.D., Blach-Overgaard, A., Zwaan, R.E. & Wagner, P. (2016) Historical colonization and dispersal limitation supplement climate and topography in shaping species richness of African lizards (Reptilia: Agaminae). Scientific Reports 6, 34014. DOI: 10.1038/srep34014

Lutz, H.L., Weckstein, J.D., Patane, J.S.L., Bates, J.M. & Aleixo, A. (2013) Biogeography and spatio-temporal diversification of Selenidera and Andigena Toucans (Aves: Ramphastidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 69, 873-883. DOI: 10.1016/j.ympev.2013.06.017

Malhi Y. , Gardner T.A., Goldsmith G.R., Silman M.R., Zelazowski P. (2014) Tropical forests in the Anthropocene. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 39, 125-159. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-environ-030713-155141

Morueta-Holme, N., Engemann, K., Sandoval-Acuña, P., Jonas, J.D., Segnitz, R.M. & Svenning, J. (2015) Strong upslope shifts in Chimborazo’s vegetation over two centuries since Humboldt. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112, 12741-12745. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1509938112