African insights

March 30, 2023

Plant Ecology & Diversity

Having recently traveled to South Africa as part of the Landscape Dynamics field course run by our graduate school, and to be thinking again about trying to obtain funding to further research in Africa, I thought it might be fun to turn to the journals in which I have an editorial hand (Plant Ecology & Diversity, Vegetation History & Archaeobotany, and The Holocene) and see what new work was coming out on African ecosystem dynamics. From each of these journals I have selected two recent papers to highlight here.

The papers come from across the continent and all have a component of the ecology of the past, but they range in focus from developing methods to extract new insights about past ecological change (Le Moyne et al., 2023) through to the application of our understanding of past ecosystems to the management of conservation areas (Wilkinson et al., 2022).

Vegetation History & Archaeobotany

The study by Le Moyne et al. (2023) examined modern reference material of nine grass species to determine how they might be better identified in the archaeological and palaeoecological record from the phytoliths they produce. Three of the studies use different lines of evidence of past ecological dynamics to explore change over the last few thousands of years.

  • Champion et al. (2023) shed light on past agricultural practices in western Africa (Nigeria) through the examination of macro-botanical evidence from 50 archaeological sites and dating back c. 3500 years, hypothesizing a new route for the spread of pearl millet out of the central Sahara into the central Nigerian savannahs.
  • Prader et al. (2023) present a c. 4000 year geochemical, palynological and and charcoal record from Table Mountain National Park in South Africa, showing changes in the abundance of fynbos and forest plants and how this was modified by people.
  • Hildebrand et al. (2022) collated multiple lines of evidence of past environmental change from eastern Africa to assess changes in human activity during and after the African Humid Period (15,000-5000 years ago), highlighting the complex relationship between changes in human resource acquisition practice (fishing, hunting, gathering, and pastoralism) and environmental change.

The longest timescale perspective is provided by Milton et al. (2022) who investigated plant speciation in the Namib Desert. They combined a phylogenetic, morphometric and experimental genetic approaches to explore the evolutionary history of Senecio flavus and S. engerianus and produce palaeo-distribution models. From these data they suggest that the wider ranged species (S. flavus) is in fact derived from the smaller ranged parent (S. engerianus) and that this separation was caused by aridification during the Pleistocene.

The final paper, Wilkinson et al. (2022), take evidence for past abundances of elephants and compare them with the abundances in national parks today. They argue that modern elephant densities in national parks could be higher than the historical levels and that this could be detrimental to the flora and other fauna in the parks.


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PoA 35: Research Articles

December 15, 2021

The second in my series highlighting papers in the recent volume of Palaeoecology of Africa (published entirely open access online) focuses on the research articles. The research articles make up the ‘guts’ of the volume, comprising 10 of the 24 papers. Three of these are from western Africa (Dinies et al.; Gosling et al.; Lemonnier & Lézine), two from eastern Africa (Githumbi et al.; Kinyanjui et al.), two from central Africa (Richards; Gaillard et al.), and three from southern Africa (Chevalier et al.; Hill & Finch, Hill et al.). These research articles present new data and key insights into past environmental change in Africa, which fall into two broad categories, providing information on: (i) how we can extract information from pollen data sets, and (ii) the processes operating to drive vegetation.

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AFQUA 2018 – day 5

July 18, 2018

AFQUA: The African Quaternary environments, ecology and humans
2ndInternational Conference and Workshops
14-22 July 2018-07-15 National Museum, Nairobi, Kenya

Day 5

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).

Tribute to Daniel Livingstone and Paul Colinvaux

January 26, 2018

Mark Bush and I are proud to announce that a tribute to Prof. Daniel Livingston and Prof. Paul Colinvaux has recently been published in Quaternary Research. Dan and Paul were both pioneers of tropical pal(a)eoecology and both died in the spring of 2016 . To mark their passing Mark and I have guest edited ten new papers on palaeoecology drawn from researchers, and regions, of the tropics in which Dan and Paul worked (Bush & Gosling, 2018). We would like to thank Quaternary Research Senior Editor Derek Booth for giving us this opportunity and assisting greatly in the process of compiling the manuscripts. We would also like to thank all to contributing authors for their hard work and dedication to the project. We hope that you will enjoy reading the manuscripts and find them a fitting tribute to the life and work of these two great researchers.

Quaternary Research
Special Issue: Tribute to Daniel Livingstone and Paul Colinvaux
Volume 89 – Special Issue 1 – January 2018 Continue Reading

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