Engaging people with pollen data

May 11, 2023

Educational activities include use of the Neotoma Database

On Wednesday 11 May 2023 I was delighted to give a online seminar for the African Pollen Database group on integrating palaeoecological data into educational programs. Thanks to Sarah Ivory, Chris Kiahtipes, and Alejandra Domic for inviting me and organizing this series.

I covered topics including the motivation of students, designing a MSc level course, and setting up BSc/MSc research projects. My presentation was centered around my personal experience of running courses for BSc Biology and Future Plant Studies students (Palaeoecology), and for MSc Earth Science and Biological Science students (Environments Through Time) at the University of Amsterdam. It was nice to get a wider perspective from discussion with the audience and to pick up some additional ideas and advice. If you have other thoughts on this topic please feel free to comment on this post.

The entire African Pollen Database online seminar series is now available to watch via the associated YouTube channel. So to find more click here.

APD workshop : African pollen data and education

May 4, 2023

In addition to researchers, many of us are also educators!  William Gosling (this blog’s esteemed owner) will be leading a discussion of how to use the African Pollen Database (APD) for outreach and education! Please join us Wed, May 10 at 9am EDT (time zone converter). Please email sji15@psu.edu for the zoom link and instructions.

At this workshop, Will is going to focus on:

  • Why incorporating paleoecology in education is important.
  • Some theory about pedagogy related to paleoecology.
  • Discussion of specific ideas targeted at different groups (e.g. undergraduates, informal education).

Do you have exercises and modules that you have incorporated paleoecological data into?  If so, we’d love to hear some of your ideas as well!

For more information, check out the schedule below and see past workshops here.

Jobs: Two Assistant Professorships within Department of Ecosystem & Landscape Dynamics

December 7, 2022

I am pleased to announce two new vacancies within the Department of Ecosystem & Landscape Dynamics at the University of Amsterdam. These position are part of a recruitment drive across the Institute for Biodiversity & Ecosystem Dynamics triggered by new funding from the Dutch government (Earth & Environmental Science Sector Plan). Both positions will be at the Assistant Professor level (either Tenure Track, or directly tenured following a period of probation; dependent upon the experience of the successful candidate). For full detail, and how to apply, check out the below links:

Closing date: 8th January 2023

These positions are designed to compliment, and strengthen, existing expertise within the department in biogeochemistry, Earth surface science, landscape ecology and palaeoecology. We are looking for scientists who are engaged with laboratory, field and/or modelling focused research, have a proven track record of publishing, and are looking for a base to build their own research group. We are looking for enthusiastic and innovative educators keen to lead and develop practical and field based courses and projects for students in our BSc Future Planet Studies and MSc Earth Sciences degree programs.

If you have any question please do not hesitate to get in contact with me directly: William D. Gosling

If you are interested to join IBED but feel you do not fit to one of these position check out our other vacancies at by clicking here.

From new methods to new insights: Advancing palaeoecology with @PalaeoNick

September 21, 2022

During the delivery of this years BSc Palaeoeclogy course at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) I discussed with a number of students about the nature and purpose of understanding the ecology of the past. This lead me to highlighting the research of Nick Loughlin (@PalaeoNick) from his PhD at The Open University and the subsequent work that he has done. I though it might be interesting to also share this here…

Nick recovers a sediment core for his PhD project.
Nick Loughlin during his PhD field work in Ecuador

Nick’s study sought to understand better the ecological history of the biodiverse eastern Andean flank in Ecuador. To achieve this he went into the field and recovered sediments from a lake and a sedimentary section exposed by a road cutting. He analysed the sediments to reveal vegetation change (pollen analysis), fire histories (charcoal analysis), and past animals in the landscape (non-pollen palynomorphs, or NPPs). To extract extra ecological information from his samples he developed the methodological approach for examining NPPs in a tropical setting (Loughlin et al. 2018a). He then combined all the different palaeoecological approaches to reveal the drivers of vegetation change during the last glacial period (in the absence of humans; Loughlin et al. 2018b), and during the last 1000 years (when indigenous and European human populations radically altered the landscape; Loughlin et al. 2018c). The insights gained from Nicks research provided empirical evidence of how humans have been modifying this biodiversity hotspot on the timescales relevant to the lifecycles of tropical trees. These findings and ideas were collated in his PhD Thesis at The Open University which was supervised by Encarni Montoya, Angela Coe and myself (Loughlin, 2018a). Subsequently, Nick has been working to broaden the impact of his work and to communicate his findings to the broader scientific and conservation community. This has lead to two new publications focused on understanding baseline ecological function and conservation implications (Loughlin et al. 2022, Nogué et al. 2022).

Lake Huila
Evidence of past ecological change recovered from Lake Huila (Ecuador) revealed how past peoples had modified the landscape of the eastern Andean biodiversity hotspot.

The arch of research carried out by Nick, I think, really demonstrates the important of understanding the ecology of the past – without his detailed investigation of microfossils we could not have seen the impacts of indigenous communities on the past Andean landscape, or identify the consequences of the European depopulation; or been able to estimate the timescales of the ecological change!


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Palaeoecology course 2022 goes archaeology…

September 16, 2022

As part of this years BSc Palaeoecology course at the University of Amsterdam we visited the Department of Archaeology. Organised by Anja Fischer we visited the human bone collection, the animal bone collection and the archaeobotany section. Amazing collections and lots of opportunities for cross faculty projects and teaching.

In addition to explaining the physical reference collections Anja also explained how she has been developing data mining techniques to allow information to be synthesised from the thousands of archaeological reports across the Netherlands.

She used this approach to make new discoveries about the role of urban farming and ruralisation in Dutch history. Her findings formed a report for the Dutch national heritage organisation (Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed) which can be downloaded for free (in English).

Fischer, A., van Londen, H., Blonk, A., Visser, R.M. & Renes, J. (2021) Urban Farming and Ruralisation in The Netherlands (1250-1850): Unravelling farming practice and the use of (open) space by synthesising archaeological reports using text mining. Nederlandse Archeologische Rapporten 68. Download free here.

Characterising Dutch forests, wetlands and cultivated lands on the basis of phytolith assemblages

September 13, 2022

Open access:

de Wolf, I.K., McMichael, C.N.H., Philip, A.L. & Gosling, W.D. (2022) Characterising Dutch forests, wetlands and cultivated lands on the basis of phytolith assemblages. Netherlands Journal of Geosciences 101, e17. DOI: 10.1017/njg.2022.14

This paper started off as a research thesis undertaken by Iris de Wolf at the University of Amsterdam as part of her BSc Biology degree in 2018. The project was supervised by Crystal McMichael and William Gosling and has subsequently been further developed. If you are student or researcher interested in undertaking a similar type of projects please get in touch.

Listen to Iris’s journal podcast speaking about the subject here.

JOB: Assistant Professorship in Climate-Vegetation Dynamics

September 3, 2021

I am excited to announce that we are looking for an expert in climate systems, with experience of computational modelling, to join our team in the Department of Ecosystem & Landscape Dynamics (ELD) at the University of Amsterdam. ELD is one of four research departments within the Institute for Biodiversity & Ecosystem Dynamics which seeks to unravel how ecosystems function in all their complexity. The successful applicant will deliver climate related education within our BSc Future Planet Studies and MSc Earth Sciences programs, and conduct cutting edge research. We are looking for a collaborative researcher who can establish research links with existing staff members and inspire students.

For full details and how to apply visit: https://www.academictransfer.com/nl/303950/assistant-professorship-in-climate-vegetation-dynamics/

Closing date: Monday 11 October

Interviews likely to be conducted in Amsterdam: 27 and 29 October.

Human impact on forest cover in Europe during the last glaciation

February 27, 2019

This is the first is a series of blog posts based on papers discussed at our “Amsterdam Palaeoecology Club” meetings. The APC meetings are organized to promote palaeoecological discussion and to help the scientific development of our MSc and BSc research students. At each meeting we discuss a paper and the progress of individual projects. Short summaries of the papers and discussions are then made by the student introducing the paper. First up is MSc researcher Rianne van Duinen with her thoughts on Kaplan et al. (2016).

Monkey on a stick

Rianne on field work in Twente during the 2017 edition of the BSc Palaeoecology course at University of Amsterdam

Human impact on forest cover in Europe during the last glaciation
By Rianne van Duinen
(currently studying for MSc Biological Sciences, Ecology & Evolution track at the University of Amsterdam)

We discussed the paper Large scale anthropogenic reduction of forest cover in Last Glacial Maximum Europe by Kaplan et al. (2016) which was found by the group to be super interesting and it incited a lot of discussion. The paper was mostly concerned with the anthropogenic influences and past vegetation of Europe. The main conclusion was that humans had a very big impact on forests during the last glacial period through the use of fire. The authors suggest that human actions are the explaining factor for the low amount of forests cover suggested by pollen records during the last glacial maximum (c. 21,000 years ago). The suggestion from Kaplan et al. that human modification of forest cover through fire during the glacial links with a recent study from Sevink et al. (2018) that suggests, based on pollen and charcoal data from the Netherlands, that human use of fire altered forest cover into the Holocene. In our discussion it was also noted that animals (mega-herbivores) were not really taken into account or discussed, even though animals probably had a big impact on the vegetation (e.g. see Bakker et al., 2016). Furthermore, another discussion point was the charcoal records that were used in the Kaplan et al. study, more specifically the number of cores. Kaplan et al. only used three cores to map out the effect of charcoal. It would be interesting to see what happens when more data from more cores is used. The Global Charcoal Database has a lot of data on European cores (c. 38% of the cores are from Europe) so there is a lot of potential for this.  All in all, the article by Kaplan et al. raised a lot of questions and opened up a nice discussion.


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Reconstructing past fire temperatures from ancient charcoal material

February 10, 2019

Gosling, W.D., Cornelissen, H. & McMichael, C.N.H. (2019) Reconstructing past fire temperatures from ancient charcoal material. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 520, 128-137. DOI: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2019.01.029

Click here for open access until 01/04/2019

Note: This article is developed directly from work conducted by Henk Cornelissen during his BSc Future Planet Studies thesis project at the Institute for Biodiversity & Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam.

Introducing Britte Heijink

March 2, 2018

Veerle and I trying to protect ourselves from the mosquitos.

Veerle and I trying to protect ourselves from the mosquitos.

Hi all!

My name is Britte Heijink and I’m doing my MSc Biological Science thesis research project with Crystal McMichael and William Gosling. I travelled with Veerle Vink and Crystal to the Colombian part of Amazonia to collect samples for my project. At Amacayacu National Park, we collected soil cores from different locations in the plot. Now that we’re back in Amsterdam, I’m analysing the soils to reconstruct the fire and vegetation history from the plot using charcoal and phytoliths. I am specifically looking to see if humans have been present in the system and how they potentially affected the vegetation at Amacayacu.

 Here I’m Sampling pieces of soil cored by Louisa and checking for large pieces of charcoal

Here I’m Sampling pieces of soil cored by Louisa and checking for large pieces of charcoal

I’ve completed my bachelor thesis for Bèta-Gamma (Liberal Arts and Sciences) under the supervision of Crystal and Will here at the UvA. I’m really excited to work with them again, and already looking forward to our meetings at the Oerknal 😉  I will be finished by the end of September, and then possibly return for a literature study.

One of the most wonderful experiences in my academic career so far has been the fieldwork to Panama and Colombia with Crystal, Veerle, and Nina. It was a lot of hard work, and 90% of our time was spent covered in mud, sweat, and insect repellant, but the experience of working in a tropical rainforest was completely worth it! Veerle and I will write another blog about our fieldwork soon. Come see us in the microscope lab if you want to hear our dangerous and amazing stories before that!



Our last day in the Amazon was spend with some of the local students, Louisa Fernando Gomez Correa and Mariana Gutierrez Munera.

Our last day in the Amazon was spend with some of the local students, Louisa Fernando Gomez Correa and Mariana Gutierrez Munera.

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