Sediment coring in Lake Erazo

XPERT field school is underway…

Palaeoenvironment

Lake Erazo Sediment coring on Lake Erazo. Photo by Valerie van den Bos (who spent the flight over reading a book on how to take the perfect photo)

By Alexandra Lee and Nick Primmer

To study the palaeo-environmental record of the Andean cloud forest, sediment cores were taken from the recently discovered Erazo lake. In mixed conditions of blazing sun and pouring rain, 14 researchers, one bus driver and several Ecuadorian guides hauled what felt like a ton of equipment up to the lake 2,300 m asl. In the centre of the lake, a wooden coring platform was mounted between two boats securely anchored at three positions. Using a modified Livingston corer with a drop hammer, five cores were successfully recovered from the lake up to a maximum depth of two metres. The main challenge encountered was the stability of the platform which resulted in several complications limiting the number of cores…

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The resilient Dodo

Picture 1: Mare aux Songes
Picture 1: Mare aux Songes

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.

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There And Back Again: Returning To The South Pacific

Ecology of the past blogger Tessa (https://ecologyofthepast.info/2015/02/16/introducing-tessa-driessen/) will be working on the pollen from these Samoa cores. Exciting times…

Palaeoenvironmental Laboratory

Last year I was told that my fieldwork in Samoa and New Caledonia was the best I’d ever experience; turns out that was a lie. This year I was fortunate enough to return to Samoa, and even more fortunate to go to the small island of Atiu in the Cook Islands. There was one very simple reason for me, along with Prof. David Sear and Dr Pete Langdon, to return to the South Pacific: we needed more sediment from the lakes on these islands. This sediment is crucial to determine how a massive band of rain – called the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) – has moved in the past. Millions of people are dependent on the SPCZ for drinking water. Data from satellites has shown that various climatic phenomena that operate in the Pacific Ocean cause the South Pacific Convergence Zone to move. With future climate change likely…

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Tropical Botany in Belize: Part 2 – Las Cuevas

Tropical Botany in Belize

By Nick Loughlin

Las Cueavs Forest Reseach Station (Photograph by Anna Turbelin)
Figure 1: Las Cueavs Forest Reseach Station (Photograph by Anna Turbelin)

As mentioned in my last post I have recently returned from a 2 week field course in tropical botany run by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) in conjunction with their MSc course on the ‘Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants’. The field course allowed for 10 NERC funded PhD students in relevant fields to accompany the MSc students out to Belize to learn a host of valuable skills in tropical botany and ecology.

To find out what we did read on…

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People, Politics and the Planet – Any Questions?

People, Politics and the Planet – Any Questions?
9 March 2015 The Light, Euston Road, London
British Ecological Society

Find out what UK politicians think about the environment ahead of the forthcoming UK general election.


The panellists were:

  • Lord de Mauley TD (Conservatives, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Natural Environment and Science)
  • Barry Gardiner MP (Labour, MP for Brent North and Shadow Minister for the Natural Environment)
  • Baroness Parminter (Liberal Democrats, Environment Spokesperson)
  • Natalie Bennett (Green, Party Leader and Parliamentary Candidate for Holborn and St. Pancras)
  • Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP (Scottish National Party, MP for Banff and Buchan)
  • William Cash (UK Independence Party, Heritage and Tourism Spokesperson)

 

Valencia PhD thesis 2014

Bryan-Kuelap-gate-2010-smallValencia Castillo, B.G. (2014) From glacial to modern conditions: Vegetation and climate change under human influence in the Central Andes. PhD Thesis, Department of Environment, Earth & Ecosystems, The Open University.

Abstract
Conservation, restoration and management strategies are employed to maintain Earth’s biological diversity and physical environment to a near “natural” state. However, the concept of “natural” is generally inexact and may include degraded landscapes. In absence of long-term empirical data of natural baselines, impacted assemblages (human altered baselines) could be falsely assumed to be natural and set as conservation or restoration goals. Therefore, the identification of long-term ecological baselines becomes a pressing requirement especially in threatened biodiversity hotspots such as the tropical Andes that were under human pressure for several millennial.

This thesis aims to identify ecological baselines for tropical Andean ecosystems based on multi-proxy palaeoecological reconstructions from three Andean lakes. Trends of vegetation change are used to identify when landscapes became anthropogenic in the Andes. Because vegetation assemblages at c. 10 ka experienced negligible anthropogenic impacts and had modern-like climate condition, this time was considered the most recent period likely to provide insight into natural ecological baseline conditions.

Changes in vegetation assemblages were evaluated over time departing from 10 ka around Miski and Huamanmarca, two sites that remained virtually impervious to human impacts. Baselines in Miski and Huamanmarca drifted continuously over time and showed that baselines are dynamic entities. The vegetation assemblages derived from Miski and Huamanmarca suggest that that human impact was not homogeneous throughout the Andean landscape.

Once baselines were defined it was possible to evaluate if the spatial distribution of Andean woodlands represented by Polylepis was a product of human impacts. A MaxEnt model generated based on 22 modern environmental variables and 13 palaeoecological vegetation reconstructions showed that Polylepis woodlands were naturally fragmented before humans arrived in South America (14 ka). However, the influence of humans during the mid and late Holocene enhanced the patchiness of the forest generating a hyper-fragmented landscape.

Supervisors: Dr. William D. Gosling , Dr. Angela L. Coe (both The Open University) and Prof. Mark B. Bush (Florida Institute of Technology).

Examined by: Dr. Robert Marchant (University of York), and Prof. David Gowing (The Open University).

To borrow a copy from The Open University Library click here.

Introducing Tessa Driessen

Tessa DriessenHi I’m Tessa and really excited to introduce myself here!

I’m an Environmental Biology Master student from Utrecht University (UU) doing a research internship in Amsterdam with William Gosling and Rike Wagner of the UU. Most people would describe me as a typical biologist because I like identifying plants and know some birds by their name. Personally I disagree because I lack the beard and hardly wear woollen socks. Besides looking at birds and plants I’m also interested in biodiversity and palaeoecology, and I will try to combine these interests in my research project on a sediment core from Samoa. I will be working on lake sediment cores from Samoa and hope fossil record can give me an overview of the natural history of the island (past c. 10,000 years); and an insight into what impact human colonisation had on the biodiversity. To explore the islands natural history I will be looking at pollen, charcoal and non pollen palynomorphs.

The sediment core on which I will be working has already been recovered and currently resides in beautiful Southampton (UK). So I’m spared of a 30 hour trip to tropical Samoa and the opportunity to return with some Samoan tattoo’s and a tan… So thanks to David Sear and his team at the University of Southampton with whom I will be collaborating for this project.

I have a long standing interest in tropical islands. Before commencing this research internship I did my first masters internship at WWF Indonesia. For my WWF internship I spent three months in the tropics collecting baseline ecological data on timber companies located in a new reserve in Sumatra. Furthermore, during my bachelor degree, I did a research internship at Naturalis Biodiversity Center investigating the “Correlation between higher altitudes and endemic plant species” in the Malayan archipelago. Our results turned out much better then we hoped for and fingers crossed our article will be accepted soon!

In three weeks I will be starting in the lab in Amsterdam and hopefully in a few months will be able to post an update about my results here.

Tessa