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).
Rianne on field work in Twente during the 2017 edition of the BSc Palaeoecology course at 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.
Gosling, W.D., Cornelissen, H. & McMichael, C.N.H. (2019) Reconstructing past fire temperatures from ancient charcoal material. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology520, 128-137. DOI: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2019.01.029
Veerle and I trying to protect ourselves from the mosquitos.
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
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.
Each project was set up to test a particular ecological or biogeographic hypothesis. Investigations included the exploration of the role of humans in modifying ecosystems in Amazon, the nature of the pre-farming landscape in the the Netherlands, and how to chemically identify fossil charcoal. In undertaking their projects individual students had the opportunity to variously develop skills in microscopy, spatial modelling, or analytical chemistry. The high quality of the data produced means that hopefully many of these data sets can be used in future scientific publications. Well done to all!
If you are interested in conducting a similar project (at any academic level) with us please do not hesitate to get in contact. For further details of ongoing research within the Department of Ecosystems & Landscape Dynamics visit our web pages by clicking here.
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.
Preparing my lecture for the new Scientific Methods in Archaeology course for VU Amsterdam and University of Amsterdam students studying a minor in Geoarchaeology. The focus will be on detecting human activity in the past, to illustrate this I will include Easter Island/Rapa Nui as a case study. We will focus on how palaeoecological evidence can be used to gain insights into past human activity. Whilst putting this together I discovered these nice documentaries looking at humans and their environmental impacts on Easter Island/Rapa Nui which I wanted to share, they show how much effort people would have had to put into altering their landscape:
For further information see also:
Rull, V., Cañellas-Boltà, N., Saez, A., Margalef, O., Bao, R., Pla-Rabes, S., Valero-Garcés, B. & Giralt, S. (2013) Challenging Easter Island’s collapse: The need for interdisciplinary synergies. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 1, DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2013.00003
Zoe and William just after the graduation ceremony (UvA)
Two students (Zoe van Kemenade and Tessa Driessen) have recently completed projects looking at past environmental change on Samoa working in the Research Group of Palaeoecology & Landscape Ecology at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). Zoe’s project, part of her BSc Future Planet Studies (major Earth Sciences) at UvA, was entitled “A multi‐proxy analysis on the effect of climate and human activity on the environment of Samoa during the Holocene” and investigated charcoal, macro-fossils, and algae. Tessa’s project, “Biodiversity, fire and human dynamics on Samoa over the last 9200 years”, was completed as an internship during her MSc in Environmental Biology at Utrecht University (UU) that was co-supervised by Rike Wagner-Cremer. Tessa focused on the fossil pollen record to reconstruct past vegetation change. Both projects were conducted in cooperation with Jon Hassel and David Sear (both University of Southampton) who provided access to the Samoan sediments; for more on the Southampton Pacific Islands projects check out their blog Palaeoenvironmental Laboratory at the University of Southampton.
The results from both projects, and work by the University of Southampton team, will be presented at this years GTO conference (European conference of tropical ecology) in Gottingen next week.
William giving his personal view on the work of Tessa at her gradation ceremony (UU)
My undergraduate studies were interdisciplinary in nature: I did a BSc Beta-Gamma (Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies (IIS), UvA) where students are taught to collaborate between different disciplines. Ecology has always been an interest of mine, so I was quick to specialize in that field. In my final year of my bachelor I came in contact with paleoecology and did not hesitate to make sure my first master’s project (MSc Biological Science, IBED, UvA) would be with the P&L research group (IBED) – a worked on a project on tropical rainforest dynamics in Miocene Amazonia. After that I got the chance to test my skills outside research institutes: during the Tesla consultancy Minor (IIS) I got firsthand practical experience in developing urban green areas from start to finish for the municipality of Amsterdam. The focus of that project was to increase the ecologic, educational, scientific, and social value of the natural areas on Amsterdam Science Park. It was great to see my scientific background put to good use outside the research community. The project is still active today.
After a short period of working in education and sustainability consultancy I seized the opportunity to, once more, join the P&L research group – this time as a Ph.D. student under the watchful eyes of William Gosling and Boris Jansen. My project revolves around characterizing biomarker and modern pollen-rain signals across the altitude of the Ecuadorian Andes vegetation. A great opportunity at the frontier of tropical research!
If the first week is any indication, I foresee to a lot of collaboration, hard work, exploration and adventure in the coming years!
Past environmental change on Mauritius has been the focus of research with the Palaeoecology & Landscape Ecology group at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) for a number of years. This research has been lead by Erik de Boer and Henry Hooghiemstra and has already resulted in a number of key publications on the environmental history of the island (de Boer et al., 2013, 2014, 2015). One current past environmental change research project working on Mauritius is being undertaken by Jona de Krui; a student within the UvA BSc Biology program supervised by myself and Erik. Jona’s is working on a study site (modern day swamp) on the north-east of the island and is focused on improving our understanding changes in the:
vegetation (macro-fossils) over the last c. 1000 years.
Jona has now completed the analysis of all his samples and we are currently collating the data sets; however, a number of the macro-fossils which he has discovered remain unidentified. Below are images of the unknown macro-fossils if you have any suggestions on identifications please comment, or get in touch directly.