Dobrochna wondering what kind of pollen and phytoliths are hidden it that piece of dirt (Krakenven, 2018)
Looking at a time capsule from Twente
By Dobrochna Delsen (currently studying for BSc Biology at the University of Amsterdam)
An unusual early morning.
It is 8:15. My train arrives at Science Park. After a ten-minute walk accompanied by other students I arrive at the university. After a short contemplation about whether I should take the elevator, I decide to take the stairs. The stairs are a bit exhausting, especially since the microscope room is at the top floor, but it gives me the necessary ‘exercise’ for the day. As I walk to the room at the end of the corridor I can see that the coat rack is still empty, except of the one lab coat that hangs there since the day my bachelors project started. I take out my student card and hold it against the door handle. The sound of the unlocking door gives me feeling of satisfaction and power. I step into the empty room with a feeling of superiority and go to my microscope where I will sit for the rest of the day.
Hi all! My name is Seringe (Dutch for lilac flower), and unsurprisingly I am a biology student. I completed my BSc Biology at the VU University, specializing in ecology. Being fascinated by tropical rainforest since I was a kid, I attended a Tropical Ecology course at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), resulting in a research project with Crystal McMichael from the Palaeoecology & Landscape Ecology group on the late-Holocene fire history of western Amazonia. Besides performing this palaeoecological project, focusing on the aspect of ancient human activity, I followed courses of Latin America Studies to broaden my perspectives on the current socio-environmental complexity and conservation status of the area. This year, I have gotten the amazing opportunity to join Crystal McMichael on a fieldwork expedition to the Ecuadorian Amazon!
Seringe Huisman in the field…
The fieldwork will be part of my Master’s thesis, elaborating on the regional patterns of vegetation composition changes in relation to human disturbance. I will be taking sediment cores from two lakes in the Sangay region of Ecuador, perform charcoal and phytolith analysis to reconstruct fire and vegetation assemblages over the late Holocene and compare the results to previously established records across western Amazonia. While I am currently attending the MSc Biological Sciences Limnology & Oceanography Master’s track at UvA, I could not help but directing my first project into Paleoecology again! My field trip is largely made possible by obtaining €1150 of grants through the Treub-Maatschappij and the Amsterdam University Fund, for which I am very grateful.
I am super excited to be heading to Ecuador soon, and will be back in a month with field stories, mosquito bites and hopefully some suitable sediments!
Wimbledon tennis fortnight is on its way, but we’ve had our own palaeoecology fortnight here at the Institute for Biodiversity & Ecosystem Dynamics at the University of Amsterdam. We’ve seen seminars on reconstructing past landscapes and climates on timescales of decades to millions of years, and on spatial scales ranging from single sites to the entire Earth. Our presenters included our BSc students, MSc students, PhD candidates, faculty members, guest researchers, and even an internationally known palaeoclimatologist and contributor to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports!
BSc student Isa Mulder presents her thesis on reconstructing glacial-aged fire histories from the Andes. Photo: C. McMichael
We began with a three-day series of presentations from our BSc students in the Future Planet studies program. William Gosling and I had four students that presented their final theses. We continued with a seminar series organized by the Palynologische Kring (the Dutch palynology society). Eric Grimm, a guest researcher at UvA, presented a high resolution record of hydrological variability, vegetation, and fire from the Great Plains of the United States. Guest researcher Carina Hoorn showed us how the Amazon River formed, and the associated plant turnover that occurred during the Neogene. PhD student Keith Richards explained to us why the Arctic seal became land-locked in the Caspian Sea over 2.6 million years ago. PhD student Suzette Flantua presented a multi-proxy approach to exploring the biogeographic history of the Andes Mountains. She came back the following day to present her PhD thesis entitled, “Ecosystems in Pleistocene Latin America”. And we are happy to report that Suzette is now Dr. Flantua!!
Suzette Flantua highlights the work in her PhD thesis. Congratulations Suzette! Photo: C. McMichael
Dr. William Gosling and Prof. Jonathan Overpeck discuss the future of palaeoecology and upcoming collaborations. Photo: C. McMichael
Our presenters included males and females from multiple countries at an array of career stages. I am glad to have been a part of this fortnight, and I am glad that our current students got to see such a diverse integration of people and palaeoecology. My hope is at least one of these students has been inspired by these seminars, and will develop the same passion for palaeoecology as what we’ve seen here over the last two weeks.
Next to La Meuse river, near the villages of Welland Aijen, there is a large archaeological site with a long history of human occupation, including the remains of a large Mesolithic hunter gatherer community (see Marion Zijlema article for more details) The history of the site is deeply linked to the expansion and flooding of the river. In collaboration with archaeologists (Hanneke Bos) four UvA bachelor students are going to study the fossil pollen, phytoliths and charcoal from the Well-Aijen site to captured the environmental change that accompanied the human occupation. Yesterday (20 January – WDG late uploading post, sorry!) we visited the site to see what it was like, and to test out some equipment!
We decided to bring out the Livingstone corer (Geo-core), which is usually used from a boat in a lake (e.g. Lake Erazo), to test its capacities on terrestrial sediment. Knowing that the peat formation was not deep below and given that the corer-system gives a nice continuous record, it seemed worthy of giving it a try. We ended up learning a lot about how the corer functions and about problem solving in the field – almost everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. We really fought for every centimeter of sample! The team never suffered from low spirits though, despite it all. With jokes and hot tea on site we ended up having a very fun and insightful expedition. Any remaining low morale or cold feet quickly faded by the sight of pie at the end of the day.
The month-long palaeoecology module at UvA is coming to an end. We have had two weeks of lectures and microscope work, an introduction to quantitative palaeoecology, and we just finished a week of fieldwork in Twente, which is in the easternmost part of the Netherlands.
Students working in the field (photo: M. Groot)
Will Gosling and I tried something new for the field excursion this year. We split the class into eight groups, and gave each group a set of pollen and phytolith samples from an ‘unknown location’. Unknown in this context means being from one of the eight primary sites that we would visit during the field excursion. The students were required to perform vegetation surveys and characterize soils at each of the primary sites that we visited. The goal of each group was to figure out which location their set of ‘unknown’ samples came from. Basically, we had them doing forensic palynology, with idea that they could then better visualize the different vegetation assemblages seen in the palaeoecological records. Continue Reading