Huisman, S.N.*, Bush, M.B. & McMichael, C.N.H. (2019) Four centuries of vegetation change in the mid-elevation Andean forests of Ecuador. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany. DOI: 10.1007/s00334-019-00715-8
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
The final day of talks at AFQUA 2018 took a more applied approach in the first session “Applying the Quaternary: The role of the past in supporting the future”. This session focused on how we can focus Quaternary science to produce outputs that directly meet concerns and needs of society. Examples included the quantification of the fossil charcoal record to provide insights into the nature and impact of fires in the past (C. Adolf), how we can use information on past vegetation change and disturbance factors to anticipate how ecosystems on Madagascar might respond to future changes (E. Razanatsoa), and how climate histories can be extended through tree ring data (D. Colombaroli).
Yesterday (day 3) was excursion day of the AFQUA conference (photos to follow). Day 4 of the meeting was back in the National Museum Nairobi and kicked off with a session on “African archaeological landscapes”. The opening talk reviewed the career of Karl Butzer who coined the term ‘geoarchaeology’ back in the 1970’s when writing about his work integrating geological, archaeological and anthropological information (C.A. Cordova). Two talks then followed highlighting work on Lake Makagadikgadi from the perspective of archaeology and landscapes (D.S.G Thomas) and geochemical fingerprinting of stone tools to determine their source (D.J. Nash).
To take us up to lunch Boris Vanniere and Daniele Colombaroli gave a ‘double header’ plenary talk highlighting the exciting advances in the development of the Global Charcoal Database and how understanding past fire histories in Africa is key to interpreting environmental change. The after lunch session continued the palaeo-fire theme with records from Lake Botswana (C.E. Cordova), Lake Bosumtwi (W.D. Gosling – me), and Madagascar presented (A. Razafimanantsoa); as well as work on the usefulness of the morphometric’s of charcoal in determining the plant of origin (L.Bremond).
In the final session of the day we were back to “Southern Africa” as a theme. Under which banner we were “boggled” by sea-surface and sub-surface temperature reconstructions (M.A. Berke), shown how to extract climate records from Hyrax middens (B.M. Chase) and given insights into the past flora of the Cape Floristic region from fossil pollen records spanning 130,000 years (L.J. Quick).
For those of you I have not had the pleasure of meeting yet, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Yoshi Maezumi. I have recently been awarded a Marie Curie Fellowship for my research proposal FIRE: Fire Intensity in Rainforest Ecotones. I will have the honor of working with an extraordinary team of international, interdisciplinary researchers including Will Gosling, Crystal McMichael, Emiel van Loon, and Boris Jansen from the University of Amsterdam, Boris Vannière from the Université de Franche-Comté, Jose Iriarte from the University of Exeter, and Francisco Cruz from the University of São Paulo. Together we will examine the long-term role of fire in shaping Amazon Rainforest Ecotones.
My research is focused on paleofire (fire in the past) in Neotropical savanna and rainforest ecosystems. My current post-doctoral research at the University of Exeter is investigating the role indigenous fire management practices had on shaping the composition, structure, and flammability of modern Amazonian rainforests.
Recently introduced to a book by Bill Gammage entitled The Biggest Estate on Earth: How the Aborigines Made Australia. Gammage identifies five uses of indigenous fire: 1) to control wildfire fuel; 2) to maintain diversity; 3) to balance species; 4) to ensure abundance; 5) to locate resources conveniently and predictably. Gammage argues that our current regime is struggling with number one. These stages of fire management provide some really interesting food for thought for my Marie Curie Fellowship as I aim to develop new paleoecological techniques to analyze paleofire that will be used to model natural and anthropogenic drivers of paleofire activity.
I have been thinking a lot about what we do and do not know about paleofire. One of the ways we reconstruct past fire activity is through the use of charcoal preserved in lake sediments. Charcoal can tell us a lot about what past fires were like including what kind of plants were burning, how often fires occurred, and potentially how big a fire was. One of the more elusive components is paleofire intensity, or how hot a particular fire was. The temperature of a fire has important ecological implications, as hotter fires tend to cause more ecological damage. Lots of factors can contribute to fire intensity including droughts, fuel loads, vegetation composition and structure, fuel moisture, etc. All of this is to say that, fire intensity is complicated. Nevertheless, one of the main objectives of my Marie Curie research will be to compile what we currently know about the effect of modern fire intensity on the charcoal formation to figure out how that information can be used to interpret charcoal from the palaeorecord.
If you would like to join me on this ‘intense’ paleofire journey, (punny, I know, I just couldn’t resist), I am starting a weekly science blog called Her Science that will highlight the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of my Marie Curie research over the next few years.