Detecting the European arrival in the Caribbean

March 8, 2019
mickbonnen

The second of our discussion papers for the “Amsterdam Palaeoecology Club”:

Mick Bonnen

Mick ready to catch bumble bees!

Detecting the European arrival in the Caribbean
By Mick Bönnen (currently studying for MSc Biological Sciences, Ecology & Evolution track at the University of Amsterdam)

The paper we discussed was “Columbus’ footprint in Hispaniola: A paleoenvironmental record of indigenous and colonial impacts on the landscape of the central Cibao Valley, northern Dominican Republic” by Castilla-Beltrán et al (2018). The paper provides a multi-proxy paleoecological reconstruction of the Caribbean island nation of the Dominican Republic, spanning the last 1100 years. Personally I found this to be a very interesting paper, packed with information and interpretations on the impact of anthropogenic factors on past Caribbean environments. What this paper nicely demonstrates is the difference in impact between pre-colonial and post-colonial societies on the vegetation of the Dominican republic. Pre-colonial Hispaniola was inhabited by indigenous societies, the Taíno people, and while this paper clearly shows them having had an environmental impact in the form of fire management (e.g. for slash and burn agriculture), small scale deforestation and the introduction of cultivars such as maize and squash, their environmental impact remains modest compared to post-colonial disturbances. Columbus arriving in AD 1492 signified a moment of change in the landscape. The paleorecord suggests that, after an initial collapse of the Taíno population, the colonization of the Dominican Republic by the Spanish brought with it deforestation, crop monoculture and the introduction of European livestock, all of which still characterizes the landscape to this day.

The discussion mainly focused on the chronology used. One of the radiocarbon samples was excluded from the age-depth model for no apparent reason, which led us to discuss the importance of critically evaluating your calibrated radiocarbon dates and which ones to incorporate in your age-depth model. The age-depth model currently used implied a shift in pollen composition c. 30 years before the arrival of the Spanish. We were unsure how to interpret these findings because you would expect the shift to happen afterwards, so my initial thought was that it had to be a fault in the chronology. This chronology however does imply a large charcoal peak followed by a rapid decline that coincides precisely with the arrival of the Spanish, and it turned out that this was the reason the authors settled on this chronology.

Even though this paper by Castilla-Beltrán et al. didn’t spark any heated discussions, its incorporation of ecology, botany, history, archeology and geology still showcases the interdisciplinary nature of paleoecology, something I very much enjoy about this field of research.

References

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Columbus’ environmental impact in the New World: Land use change in the Yaque River valley, Dominican Republic

August 29, 2018
WDG

Open access:

Hooghiemstra, H., Olijhoek, T., Hoogland, M., Prins, M., van Geel, B., Donders, T., Gosling, W.D. & Hofman, C. (2018) Columbus’ environmental impact in the New World: Land use change in the Yaque River valley, Dominican Republic. The Holocene. Online DOI: 10.1177/0959683618788732

van Beek, R., Gouw-Bouman, M.T.I.J. & Bos, J.A.A. (2015) Mapping regional vegetation developments in Twente (the Netherlands) since the Late Glacial and evaluating contemporary settlement patterns. Netherlands Journal of Geosciences-Geologie En Mijnbouw 94, 229-255. doi: 10.1017/njg.2014.40

  • SUMMARY: Examination of archaeological and palaeoecological evidence from the Twente region of the Netherlands is used to produce maps and images of past landscapes. The artists reconstructions of landscape change are particularly amazing and thought provoking.

Burn, M.J. & Palmer, S.E. (2014) Solar forcing of Caribbean drought events during the last millennium. Journal of Quaternary Science 29, 827-836. doi: 10.1002/jqs.2660

Göldel, B., Araujo, A.C., Kissling, W.D. & Svenning, J.-C. (2016) Impacts of large herbivores on spinescence and abundance of palms in the Pantanal, Brazil. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society in press. doi: 10.1111/boj.12420

Llamas, B., Fehren-Schmitz, L., Valverde, G., Soubrier, J., Mallick, S., Rohland, N., Nordenfelt, S., Valdiosera, C., Richards, S.M., Rohrlach, A., Romero, M.I.B., Espinoza, I.F., Cagigao, E.T., Jiménez, L.W., Makowski, K., Reyna, I.S.L., Lory, J.M., Torrez, J.A.B., Rivera, M.A., Burger, R.L., Ceruti, M.C., Reinhard, J., Wells, R.S., Politis, G., Santoro, C.M., Standen, V.G., Smith, C., Reich, D., Ho, S.Y.W., Cooper, A. & Haak, W. (2016) Ancient mitochondrial DNA provides high-resolution time scale of the peopling of the Americas. Science Advances 2. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1501385

Turner, T.E., Swindles, G.T., Charman, D.J., Langdon, P.G., Morris, P.J., Booth, R.K., Parry, L.E. & Nichols, J.E. (2016) Solar cycles or random processes? Evaluating solar variability in Holocene climate records. Scientific Reports 6, 23961. doi: 10.1038/srep23961

Open access online:

Flantua, S.G.A., Hooghiemstra, H., Grimm, E.C., Behling, H., Bush, M.B., González-Arango, C., Gosling, W.D., Ledru, M., Lozano-García, S., Maldonado, A., Prieto, A.R., Rull, V. & Van Boxel, J.H. Updated site compilation of the Latin American Pollen Database. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 223, 104-115. DOI: 10.1016/j.revpalbo.2015.09.008

News articles:

Unesco to rule on Tasmania forest and Great Barrier Reef, BBC News Asia.

Climate change will ‘cost world far more than estimated’, by Tom Bawden, The Independent.

Scientific articles:

Heslop-Harrison, J. (1979) Aspects of the structure, cytochemistry and germination of the pollen of Rye (Secale cereale L.). Annals of Botany, 44, 1-47.
Summary (Adele): Sometimes, the old ones are the best, and this behemoth of a paper contains a huge amount of useful information on the chemical structure and development of Rye pollen grains. As I am working on the chemistry of grass pollen at the moment, it is incredibly useful to know that this sort of information exists and can be used to inform both my experimental protocol and interpretations.

Michelutti, N., Blais, J.M., Cumming, B.F., Paterson, A.M., Rühland, K., Wolfe, A.P. & Smol, J.P. (2010) Do spectrally inferred determinations of chlorophyll a reflect trends in lake trophic status? Journal of Paleolimnology, 43, 205-217. doi: 10.1007/s10933-009-9325-8
Summary (Frazer): Quick and easy way to extract data from lake sediment cores.

Rossetti, D.F., de Toledo, P.M and Góes, A.M. (2005) New geological framework for Western Amazonia (Brazil) and implications for biogeography and evolution. Quaternary Research, 63, 78 – 89. doi: 10.1016/j.ygres.2004.10.001.
Summary (Hayley): Research discussing the importance of understanding the underlying geological processes in order to correctly identify the mechanisms controlling modern biodiversity in Western Amazonia, Brazil.

Simpson, J. (2011) On the Ambiguity of Elves. Folklore, 122, 76-83. DOI: 10.1080/0015587X.2011.537133
Summary (Will): Elves depicted in modern literature have a grounding in ancient literature.

Trenkamp, R., Kellogg, J. N., Freymueller, J.T. and Mora, H.P. (2002) Wide plate margin deformation, southern Central America and northwestern South America, CASA GPS observations. Journal of South American Earth Sciences. 15, 157 – 171. PIL: S0895-9811(02)00018-4.
Summary (Hayley): GPS data used to detect plate boundary convergence, subduction and collision within the north west of South America. GPS data between 1991 and 1998 was used to work out rates of movement for plates.

Palaeo-Caribbean

July 30, 2013
WDG

Earlier this month Rachel Gwynn (Geography, UCL) visited the PCRG to use our core splitter to reveal what was contained within two cores collected from the Carribean. She has also been kind enough to provide photos of the sediments and an insight into the story so far:

Sediments from Fresh Water Pond Barbuda (Photograph Rachel Gwynn)

Sediments from Fresh Water Pond Barbuda (Photograph Rachel Gwynn)

Lake sediment cores covering the past few hundred to thousand years have been taken from two lakes, Wallywash Great Pond in Jamaica and Freshwater Pond in Barbuda. The sediments form part of the NERC-funded project Neotropics1k (PI Prof. Jonathan Holmes), which is concerned with climate variability in the northern Neotropics over the past millennium. The sediment cores show marked changes in composition and colour, from pale marl to dark organic mud. These colour changes, which are clearly visible in the photographs, represent changes in sediment composition that are in turn related to lake-level variations caused by long-term climate shifts. Deeper, open-water conditions under wetter climate are represented by the marls, whereas lowered lake levels, caused by direr climate, are associated with organic-rich sediments.

Wallywash Great Pond– core section W2

  • Thirteen separate units have been identified through the 1 m core length, varying between light coloured marl, dark organic and shelly sediments.
  • The abundance of preserved Ostracod valves increases throughout the marl and shell rich layers but drops significantly in the organic rich material.

Barbuda Freshwater Pond- core section FWP

  • This core has four distinct units. 0-23 cm is a calcareous mud with a diffused lower boundary into a shelly calcareous mud at 25-35.5 cm. 35.5-38 cm and 38-52 cm is two variations of calcareous mud.
  • These units, as with the W2 core, have been defined using a Munsel Soil Chart.
  • The Ostracod valves are thought to be abundant throughout the core due to the high marl content.

Wallywash Great Pond Jamaica (photograph Rachel Gwynn)

Wallywash Great Pond Jamaica (photograph Rachel Gwynn)

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