The final day of talks at AFQUA 2018 took a more applied approach in the first session “Applying the Quaternary: The role of the past in supporting the future”. This session focused on how we can focus Quaternary science to produce outputs that directly meet concerns and needs of society. Examples included the quantification of the fossil charcoal record to provide insights into the nature and impact of fires in the past (C. Adolf), how we can use information on past vegetation change and disturbance factors to anticipate how ecosystems on Madagascar might respond to future changes (E. Razanatsoa), and how climate histories can be extended through tree ring data (D. Colombaroli).
The fifth day of the AFQUA conference started with the second session on “Archaeological Landscapes”. Talks included: (i) a tribute to the work of Dick Grove in Quaternary work in Africa since the 1950’s, including possibly the earliest definition of the African humid period in his paper Grove & Warren (1968) (D.S.G. Thomas), and (ii) a highlight of new work on the Kisese II Rock Shelter in Tanzania (K. Ranhorn). Then to take us up to lunch Prof. David Nash treated us to a tour de force through the use of historical records in reconstructing past climates; including quotes from the fantastically named Holloway Helmore a missionary to Lekatlong in 1851 commenting on drough and how to turn this type of information into a regional/continental synthesis!
The afternoon session focused around the theme of “East Africa”. This session started with two talks on one of the “least known ancient civilization” in Ethiopia the Aksumite and pre-Aksumite peoples, and the resilience of these peoples to environmental and land-use change (V. Terwilliger and Z. Eshetiu). Other work presented on the morphometry of hominin skulls showing gradual development from 500,000 to 315,000 years ago which lead up to the appearance of anatomically modern humans (E. Mbua).
The second day of the AFQUA conference commenced with the second session on “East Africa” and Prof. Tom Johnson asking the question “Should we drill Lake Victoria?”… and a request for ideas from people to join in with ideas for the proposals for obtaining new sedimentary records from the lake. The East Africa session continued with exploration of Lake Kivu using organic biomarkers to see if past lake ‘explosions’ could be detected (M.E. Berke) and the use of strontium isotopes to detect past climate from lakes in the Turkana Basin (H.J.L. van der Lubbe).
Before lunch the second plenary talk of the conference was delivered by Prof. Sharon Nicolson who made it very clear that the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone does NOT play an important role in controlling rainfall patterns across Africa (see Nicholson, 2018).
After lunch the first oral sessions covered “Southern Africa” and included d13C records from Bobab trees (S. Woodborne and E. Razanatsoa), early human finds in cascade tufas (M.A. Pickford), and quantitative climate reconstructions from pollen using the CREST software (M. Chevalier). After the break we were back for “Quantitative palaeoclimatology, modelling and data-model comparison” thinking about what is abrupt (M. Claussen), the impact of atmospheric CO2 on plants (V.J. Hare), and connectivity between lakes in the Kenyan rift (R. Dommain). Then it was off to the hotel bar to watch the football…
My first AFQUA conference really began the day before the conference proper started in the Kenyan immigration queue where I met a number of fellow delegates who were flying in from all over the world. It was great to start to put faces to names of people who’s work I had read for many years. Once out of the airport transfer to the hotel was smooth, and it was with some excitement that the following morning I made the short walk from the hotel to the famous Nairobi National Museum for the start of the conference.
Prof. Andy Cohen (one of my fellow delegates in the immigration line) kicked off the AFQUA conference with a plenary giving an overview of African continental drilling projects. He traced the dream of the recovery of long continental records back to Daniel Livingstone and Neil Opdyke’s workshop from 1980 that set out the dream of obtaining long records from the continent. He then went on to give examples of how multi-millennial lake records, including Lake Malawi, can be used to understand the tempo of ecological change.
The first session of the conference, entitled “East Africa”, included: exciting evidence of Deinotherium the largest land mammal of the Quaternary (J.-P. Brugal), the use of d13C in determining homonin ecology (V.M. Iminjili), and evidence from a new c. 200,000 year old site at Natodomeri (Kenya) that contains evidence of homonids, elephids, giant lions and pigmy hippos (F.K. Manthi).
The second session of AFQUA covered “The environmental context for homonin evolution and dispersal”. This started with geochemical data from Chew Bahir that sheds light on potential drivers of climatic shifts (F. Schabitz), and included examination of changes climate between c. 500,000 and 320,000 years ago that coincided with the shift from hominid use of large cutting tools to smaller implements (R. Potts), and discussion of the environment the route which hominids took out of Africa (F. Henselowsky).
I am delighted to be organizing a focus session at the first AfQUA meeting. The session seeks to bring together ecologists and palaeoecologists working in Africa. If you are interested in getting involved please contact me (William Gosling) directly. For further information on the conference visit the AfQUA website or twitter feed.
Focus session 1: African ecology in context
The African continent spans over 80 degrees of latitude, nearly 6000 m of altitude and around 30 million km2 consequently it contains a vast array of unique ecosystems. Many of the African ecosystems are under direct pressure from human activity and are threatened by on-going and projected climate change. However, management and conservation of the modern African ecosystems is hampered by a paucity of data on their natural history. Studies of observations of ecosystems spanning >30 years are rare so we are heavily reliant on examination of the fossil record to place modern ecology in a long-term (>50 year) context. Information on past ecosystems can be extracted through the examination of a range of biological indicators (e.g. pollen, carbon isotopes, charcoal) found within marine and lake sediments. However, interpretation of the sediments and the proxies they contain with the ecosystems observed today is challenging because of timescale and interpretation issues. The aim of this session is to bring together modern ecologists and paleo-ecologists working in Africa to present the state-of-the-art understanding of ecosystems past and present, and explore how we can improve understanding of timescales and proxy interpretation to place these threatened ecosystems in context.