Revealing pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial Kenya

June 29, 2020

Rahab Kinyanjui


By Rahab KINYANJUI (National Museums of Kenya: Nairobi)

In spite of the challenges and uncertainties that the larger scientific community is currently facing, I am delighted and humbled to accept one of the British Ecological Society’s Ecologist in Africa research grant for 2020. The grant will support my historical ecology project whose main goal is to apply palaeoecological and archaeological proxies to investigate the extent of anthropogenic impacts on vegetation structure and composition of one of the Kenyan Central highlands before, during, and after the colonial period.

The Aberdare range forest provide an ideal setting for this study because they have been farmed by local populations since long before colonialism, and they were heavily impacted during colonial times because of their fertile soils. This pilot project aims to reveal the land-use and land-cover dynamics of the Aberdare range forest, and it is hoped that eventually similar studies will be undertaken in other parts of the Kenyan highland forests.

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.


Continue Reading

Plant Ecology & Diversity

February 22, 2019

I recently joined the editorial board of Plant Ecology & Diversity at the invitation of editor-in-chief Laszlo Nagy (University of  Campinas, Brazil). The journal focuses on ecological and evolutionary issues within plant biology with broad themes covering biodiversity, conservation and global change. Furthermore, I think this is a particularly interesting journal to be involved with because of its option for double-blind peer reviews, commitment to providing a platform for ‘negative results’ and ‘repeat experiments’, and its open access Grubb Review series (Nagy & Resco de Dios, 2016); which already includes many significant articles, including: Ashton (2017), Barbeta & Peñuelas (2016), Grubb (2016), Körner (2018), Valladares et al. (2016), and Wilkinson & Sherratt (2016). In addition to the invited Grubb Reviews the journal publishes: research articles, short communications, reviews, and scientific correspondence. My role on the editorial board will be to cover submissions related to tropical palaeoecology and biogeography. So please consider submitting to Plant Ecology & Diversity if you have some exciting new research or ideas that you think would be appropriate.


References Continue Reading

Netherlands Annual Ecology Meeting 2019

February 11, 2019

The Netherlands Annual Ecology Meeting (NAEM) 2019 takes place in the 12 and 13 February. This annual showcase of predominantly Dutch based ecological research will take place, as usual, at Conference Centre “De Werelt” (Lunteren). I am particularly excited this year as, along with Marielos Pena Carlos and Patrick Jansen, I am co-convening a session on “Tropical Ecology”. The first time I have contributed to the program in this way. Our session will be on the second day of the conference and contain the following exciting presentations:

  • 15:00 Predator avoidance and prey tracking in a Neotropical forest (Constant Swinkels, Wageningen University & Research)
  • 15:20 The role of fig volatiles in pollinator specificity and fig diversity (Aafke Oldenbeuving, Naturalis Biodiversity Center)
  • 15:40 Mangrove Atlantis: Can mangroves keep up with extreme land-subsidence? (Celine van Bijsterveldt, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research)
  • 16:00 Break
  • 16:10 The fate of forests in agro-forest frontier landscapes, implications for conservation (Madelon Lohbeck, Wageningen University & Research)
  • 16:30 Trends in the variability of Specific Leaf Area of paramo vegetation during succession (Marian Cabrera, University of Amsterdam)
  • 16:50 Succession dynamics of tree and soil fungal communities in regenerating tropical rainforests are strongly influenced by regional species pool and abiotic factors (Irene Adamo, Naturalis Biodiversity Center)


Introducing Yoshi Maezumi

May 14, 2018
S. Yoshi Maezumi

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Greetings Paleo-Family!

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.

Until next time,

Live long and Science On,


Long-Term Vegetation Dynamics in a Megadiverse Hotspot

February 20, 2018

Open access:

Montoya, E., Keen, H.F., Luzuriaga, C.X. & Gosling, W.D. (2018) Long-term vegetation dynamics in a megadiverse hotspot: The Ice-Age record of a pre-montane forest of central Ecuador. Frontiers in Plant Science 9, 196. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2018.00196

Tribute to Daniel Livingstone and Paul Colinvaux

January 26, 2018

Mark Bush and I are proud to announce that a tribute to Prof. Daniel Livingston and Prof. Paul Colinvaux has recently been published in Quaternary Research. Dan and Paul were both pioneers of tropical pal(a)eoecology and both died in the spring of 2016 . To mark their passing Mark and I have guest edited ten new papers on palaeoecology drawn from researchers, and regions, of the tropics in which Dan and Paul worked (Bush & Gosling, 2018). We would like to thank Quaternary Research Senior Editor Derek Booth for giving us this opportunity and assisting greatly in the process of compiling the manuscripts. We would also like to thank all to contributing authors for their hard work and dedication to the project. We hope that you will enjoy reading the manuscripts and find them a fitting tribute to the life and work of these two great researchers.

Quaternary Research
Special Issue: Tribute to Daniel Livingstone and Paul Colinvaux
Volume 89 – Special Issue 1 – January 2018 Continue Reading

Pollen-vegetation richness and diversity relationships in the tropics

October 10, 2017

Online, open access:

Gosling, W.D., Julier, A.C.M., Adu-Bredu, S., Djagbletey, G.D., Fraser, W.T., Jardine, P.E., Lomax, B.H., Malhi, Y., Manu, E.A., Mayle, F.E. & Moore, S. (2017) Pollen-vegetation richness and diversity relationships in the tropics. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany. DOI: 10.1007/s00334-017-0642-y

Tropical forests in the Anthropocene

November 8, 2016

Yadvinder MalhiSeminar
Institute for Biodiversity & Ecosystem Dynamics
University of Amsterdam

Tropical forests in the Anthropocene
by Prof. Yadvinder Malhi (University of Oxford)

16:00-17:00, 24 November 2016
Science Park, Amsterdam
If you want to attend please click here for full details.

ABSTRACT: Continue Reading

Biodiversity and the functioning of tropical forests

July 12, 2016

Biodiversity and the functioning of tropical forests
PhD defense University of Wageningen
Candidate: Masha T. van der Sande
Date: 06/07/2016

Watch Masha’s thesis defense on WUR TV (featuring W.D. Gosling as an opponent…)

WRUTVClick here to watch the video

Blog at