African insights

March 30, 2023

Plant Ecology & Diversity

Having recently traveled to South Africa as part of the Landscape Dynamics field course run by our graduate school, and to be thinking again about trying to obtain funding to further research in Africa, I thought it might be fun to turn to the journals in which I have an editorial hand (Plant Ecology & Diversity, Vegetation History & Archaeobotany, and The Holocene) and see what new work was coming out on African ecosystem dynamics. From each of these journals I have selected two recent papers to highlight here.

The papers come from across the continent and all have a component of the ecology of the past, but they range in focus from developing methods to extract new insights about past ecological change (Le Moyne et al., 2023) through to the application of our understanding of past ecosystems to the management of conservation areas (Wilkinson et al., 2022).

Vegetation History & Archaeobotany

The study by Le Moyne et al. (2023) examined modern reference material of nine grass species to determine how they might be better identified in the archaeological and palaeoecological record from the phytoliths they produce. Three of the studies use different lines of evidence of past ecological dynamics to explore change over the last few thousands of years.

  • Champion et al. (2023) shed light on past agricultural practices in western Africa (Nigeria) through the examination of macro-botanical evidence from 50 archaeological sites and dating back c. 3500 years, hypothesizing a new route for the spread of pearl millet out of the central Sahara into the central Nigerian savannahs.
  • Prader et al. (2023) present a c. 4000 year geochemical, palynological and and charcoal record from Table Mountain National Park in South Africa, showing changes in the abundance of fynbos and forest plants and how this was modified by people.
  • Hildebrand et al. (2022) collated multiple lines of evidence of past environmental change from eastern Africa to assess changes in human activity during and after the African Humid Period (15,000-5000 years ago), highlighting the complex relationship between changes in human resource acquisition practice (fishing, hunting, gathering, and pastoralism) and environmental change.

The longest timescale perspective is provided by Milton et al. (2022) who investigated plant speciation in the Namib Desert. They combined a phylogenetic, morphometric and experimental genetic approaches to explore the evolutionary history of Senecio flavus and S. engerianus and produce palaeo-distribution models. From these data they suggest that the wider ranged species (S. flavus) is in fact derived from the smaller ranged parent (S. engerianus) and that this separation was caused by aridification during the Pleistocene.

The final paper, Wilkinson et al. (2022), take evidence for past abundances of elephants and compare them with the abundances in national parks today. They argue that modern elephant densities in national parks could be higher than the historical levels and that this could be detrimental to the flora and other fauna in the parks.


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New insights from a Poaceae pollen morphological study in the Amazon

November 8, 2022

Open access:

Wei, C., Jardine, P.E., Gosling, W.D. & Hoorn, C. (2023) Is Poaceae pollen size a useful proxy in palaeoecological studies? New insights from a Poaceae pollen morphological study in the Amazon. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 308, 104790. DOI: 10.1016/j.revpalbo.2022.104790

The onset of grasses in the Amazon drainage basin, evidence from the fossil record

March 23, 2020

Kirschner, J.* & Hoorn, C. (2019) The onset of grasses in the Amazon drainage basin, evidence from the fossil record Frontiers of Biogeography DOI:10.21425/F5FBG44827

*Judith conducted this work as part of her MSc Earth Sciences: Geo-ecological Dynamics degree at the Institute for Biodiversity & Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam.

Chemotaxonomy of domesticated grasses: a pathway to understanding the origins of agriculture

June 7, 2019

Open access:

Jardine, P.E., Gosling, W.D., Lomax, B.H., Julier, A.C.M. & Fraser, W.T. (2019) Chemotaxonomy of domesticated grasses: a pathway to understanding the origins of agriculture. Journal of Micropalaeontology 38, 83-95. DOI: 10.5194/jm-38-83-2019

Published open access:

Julier, A.C.M., Jardine, P.E., Coe, A.L., Gosling, W.D., Lomax, B.H. & Fraser, W.T. (2016) Chemotaxonomy as a tool for interpreting the cryptic diversity of Poaceae pollen. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 235, 140-147. DOI: 10.1016/j.revpalbo.2016.08.004

Linnean Society Palynology Specialist Group

November 17, 2015

Posted on behalf of Barry Lomax
Linnean Society Palynology Specialist Group meeting
Linnean Society of London
Tuesday 24 November 2015

Provisional program

10:30 – 11:00 Barry Thomas (Aberystwyth University). Ecological interpretations of Asturian and Cantabrian lycophyte microspore floras of the Variscan Foreland and the Appalachian Province of the Central Coalfields of the U.S.A

11:00 – 11:30 Adele Julier (Open University). Can FTIR spectroscopy be used to identify grass pollen?

Morning Coffee 11:30-12:00

12:00 – 12:30 Katrina Bakker (York University). Spore particles: new materials applications.

Lunch 12:30-14:00

14:00 – 14:30 Viktória Baranyi1 (Oslo Universiy). Morphology and wall-ultrastructure of Froelichsporites traversei, an enigmatic sporomorph from the Late Triassic in North America.

14:30 – 15:00 Hannah Banks (Royal Botanic Gardens Kew). Functional and phylogenetically useful structures in Caesalpinioid legume pollen.

15:00 – 15:30 Sam Slater (Sheffield University). A quantitative analysis of Middle Jurassic vegetation dynamics based on dispersed spore/pollen assemblages from the Ravenscar Group, North Yorkshire, UK.

Afternoon tea 15:30 – 16:00

16:00 – 16:30 Alex Askew (Sheffield University). A palynological investigation of the Middle Devonian of northern Spain: hunting for the Kačák event.

16:30 – 17:00 Phil Jardine (Open University). A new use for old pollen: reconstructing past solar irradiance using pollen chemistry.

Wine reception

To register please contact Barry Lomax (Group secretary)

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