Hello all! You might have been wondering if I died in the middle of Amazonian nowhere, since I haven’t come back to writing a blog after we left for fieldwork in July. Given we were in an Amazonian region full of venomous snakes that could have been the case, but the good news is I just didn’t get around writing it because I got carried away by the findings of my project! We actually had a very successful field trip – apart from some minor issues like the lake swallowing equipment, sinking waist-high into the mud each step of our 7 hour long ‘trail’ to the lakes, and almost not getting my precious samples through airport security.
We are seeking to recruit a Neotropical palaeoecologist to join the recently funded “The past peoples of Amazonia: Assessing ecological legacies” project(PIDr. Crystal McMichael, funding NWO, based within the Department of Ecosystem & Landscape Dynamics). The project aims to reconstruct cultural histories from lake sediments in northwestern Amazonia, and link past human activities with modern ecological observations. The project involves analyzing microfossils (including pollen, phytoliths, and charcoal), and the development of a transfer function that estimates past human impacts in tropical forest systems.
We are particularly looking for a candidate with expertise and experience, in:
Fieldwork in remote areas.
Quantitative analysis, including familiarity with R and Geographical Information Systems.
Figure 1: Las Cueavs Forest Reseach Station (Photograph by Anna Turbelin)
As mentioned in my last postI have recently returned from a 2 week field course in tropical botany run by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) in conjunction with their MSc course on the ‘Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants’. The field course allowed for 10 NERC funded PhD students in relevant fields to accompany the MSc students out to Belize to learn a host of valuable skills in tropical botany and ecology.
Students examining a sediment core extracted with a Russian corer
Last week, Will – our new associate professor at the University of Amsterdam – joined us on the field residential module of the undergraduate “Paleoecology” course; 7 days exploring the sediments and vegetation of the Twente region of the Netherlands. The experience provided Will with a lot of information on Dutch language, landscapes, and students; which should be useful to him next year as he will be coordinating the course!
Students examining peat exposures.
During this very intensive (4-week) paleoecology course, students get background lectures in past environmental change, learn to identify microfossils in the laboratory (pollen and chironomids), and go on the excursion to experience fieldwork. The field module involves excursions during the day, when students have to identify plant species indicative of different vegetation types in relation to soil nutrient availability and moisture content. The evenings are reserved for the students own paleoecological research investigation; this year students were reconstructing the vegetation history and climate change during the late-glacial from a lake sediment core from Germany. Once data collection was completed the students had to interpret the pollen assemblages they found using the knowledge of modern day ecosystems they gained throughout the week. On the final evening they presented their work to the whole group. The final results they achieved were quite impressive.
Students presenting findings from the days work
I am very curious as to what the course will be like next year, led by Will, and how he will tweak and turn it to his liking.
My final teaching job for The Open University was to help deliver the “Sedimentary Rocks & Fossils in the Field” section of the Level 2 Practical Science module (SXG288) offered by the Science Faculty. I have been involved in all three presentations of this section of the SXG288 module, which will now cease to be offered, and a number of other Earth and environmental science residential schools over the last 9 years.
Having the opportunity to engage directly with students and enthuse them face-to-face about the subject I specialise in is a privilege I have gained a lot from. Furthermore, my over-riding impression from the students I have taught is that they feel they benefit greatly from the opportunity to explore first hand the concepts and subjects which they have previously studied in books and online. Based on my experiences on “Sedimentary Rocks and Fossils”, and other modules as both a tutor and a student, I am convinced that to effectively teach geological, geographical, environmental and ecological subjects effectively an element of field-based teaching is required.