The impact of people on islands

January 19, 2018

Since being appointed as an Associate Editor of Vegetation History & Archaeobotany last year I have the pleasure of working on a number of exciting and interesting manuscripts from the tropics. I am particularly delighted that the first of these (Astudillo, 2018) has now been published. I particularly liked this manuscript because of: (i) the close relationship that was shown between the historical and fossil records, and (ii) the clear signal shown from working on a island system. This linkage is something I have been thinking about in my own research on Mauritius recently (Gosling et al., 2017) and is, I believe, particularly valuable to do because it demonstrates the validity of techniques to track human activity when applied in contexts without historical documentation. The impact of people on the Galapagos is shown by Astudillo (2018) from investigation of multiple proxies (charcoal, phytoliths and macrofossils) to build up a comprehensive picture of human impacts on one of the most famous places for biodiversity on Earth. Hopefully this study is just the start of investigations into past human impacts on the Galapagos islands, and I hope that you enjoy reading the manuscript!

Continue Reading

In the news:

Exploding flower blasts birds with pollen, by Xochitl Rojas-Rocha Science shot. (Research article behind this story is Dellinger et al. listed below). Also:

Scientific articles:

Dellinger, A.S., Penneys, D.S., Staedler, Y.M., Fragner, L., Weckwerth, W. & Schönenberger, J. A Specialized Bird Pollination System with a Bellows Mechanism for Pollen Transfer and Staminal Food Body Rewards. Current Biology, online.

Huntley, B., Midgley, G.F., Barnard, P. & Valdes, P. (2014) Suborbital climatic variability and centres of biological diversity in the Cape region of southern Africa. Journal of Biogeography, 41 (7): 1338-1351.

Matthew, T.J., Cottee-Jones, H.E., & Whittaker, R.J. (2014) Habitat fragmentation and the species–area relationship: a focus on total species richness obscures the impact of habitat loss on habitat specialists. Diversity and Distribution, 20 (10): 1136-1146.

Rijsdijk, K.F., Hengl, T., Norder, S.J.,  Otto, R., Emerson, B.C., Ávila, S.P., López, H., van Loon, E. E., Tjørve, E. & Fernández-Palacios, J.M. (2014) Quantifying surface-area changes of volcanic islands driven by Pleistocene sea-level cycles: biogeographical implications for the Macaronesian archipelagos. Journal of Biogeography, 41 (7): 1242-1254.

In the news:

First Farmers Were Also Sailors, by Michael Balter in Science.

John Bostock: The man who ‘discovered’ hay fever, by Justin Parkinson in BBC News Magazine.

DNA study shows yeti is real (sort of) – and Oxford scientist prepares expedition to find it, by Adam Withnall in The Independent.

Tibetan altitude gene inherited ‘from extinct species’, by Paul Rincon BBC News Website

Scientific articles:

Bonatelli, I.A.S., Perez, M.F., Peterson, A.T., Taylor, N.P., Zappi, D.C., Machado, M.C., Koch, I., Pires, A.H.C. & Moraes, E.M. (2014) Interglacial microrefugia and diversification of a cactus species complex: phylogeography and palaeodistributional reconstructions for Pilosocereus aurisetus and allies. Molecular Ecology, 23, 3044-3063.

Bush, M.B., Restrepo, A. and Collins, A.F. (2014) Galápagos history, restoration, and a shifted baseline. Restoration Ecology, 22, 3, 296-298.
Summary (Nick): A concise and pithy look at how a robust long-term ecological system can be transformed rapidly by human impact. The paper demonstrates how the fossil pollen record is fundamental if a near-natural vegetation state is to be restored to the Galápagos islands, to avoid restoration to a shifted baseline.

Froyd, C.A., Coffey, E.E.D., van der Knaap, W.O., van Leeuwen, J.F.N., Tye, A. & Willis, K.J. (2014) The ecological consequences of megafaunal loss: giant tortoises and wetland biodiversity. Ecology Letters, 17, 144-154.

Giguet-Covex, C., Pansu, J., Arnaud, F., Rey, P.-J., Griggo, C., Gielly, L., Domaizon, I., Coissac, E., David, F., Choler, P., Poulenard, J. & Taberlet, P. (2014) Long livestock farming history and human landscape shaping revealed by lake sediment DNA. Nat Commun, 5

Gillson, L. & Marchant, R. (2014) From myopia to clarity: sharpening the focus of ecosystem management through the lens of palaeoecology. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 29, 317-325.
Comment (Will): For a good example of feeding palaeoecology into management see Bush et al. above.

Blog at