More on “Persistent effects of pre-Columbian plant domestication on Amazonian forest composition”

October 20, 2017

Crytsal McMichael (University of Amsterdam)

Discussion on human impacts on Amazonian forest…

McMichael, C.H., Feeley, K.J., Dick, C.W., Piperno, D.R. & Bush, M.B. (2017) Comment on “Persistent effects of pre-Columbian plant domestication on Amazonian forest composition”. Science 358. DOI: 10.1126/science.aan8347

Junqueira, A.B., Levis, C., Bongers, F., Peña-Claros, M., Clement, C.R., Costa, F. & ter Steege, H. (2017) Response to Comment on “Persistent effects of pre-Columbian plant domestication on Amazonian forest composition”. Science 358. DOI: 10.1126/science.aan8837

Volcanic, climatic and human ecosystem modification

May 8, 2017

My second pair articles from Vegetation History & Archaeobotany that I would like to highlight look at the impacts of volcanoes and climate on vegetation change. Specifically these explore:

For more detailed thoughts on these papers read on…

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Vegetation History & Archaeobotany

February 12, 2017

vhaI am delighted to report that I have recently been appointed as an Associate Editor for the journal Vegetation History & Archaeobotany (VHA). The journals scope is global and covers Quaternary environmental and climatic change, with a specific focus on the Holocene and pre-historic human impacts on landscapes; often linking palaeoecological and archaeological research. My remit with VHA is to provide expertise on tropical, and in particular South American, studies. Recent articles in VHA with a South American focus include:

I hope that over the next few years we can publish some more exciting articles on the tropics in VHA and I would therefore like to encourage you to submit interesting high quality original research, reviews, or short articles for our consideration.

To find out more about the journal and submit an article click here.

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PhD position: When was the South Pacific colonised?

October 31, 2016

Funded PhD studentship at:
Palaeoenvironmental Laboratory
Department of Geography & Environment
University of Southampton

Title: When was the South Pacific colonised? A lake sediment approach to understanding climate:human drivers of ecosystem change on remote Pacific Islands

Supervisors: Sandra Nogue, Pete Langdon, David Sear (all University of Southampton), and William Gosling (University of Amsterdam)

Deadline: 2 January 2017

To find out more about the project, check eligibility criteria, and details of how to apply click here.

The team lake coring in the South Pacific. Photo Jon Hassall, see more:

The team lake coring in the South Pacific. Photo Jon Hassall, see more:

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In the news

Ancient ‘massacre’ unearthed near Lake Turkana, Kenya, by Anon. BBC News: Africa

Bronze Age houses uncovered in Cambridgeshire are Britain’s ‘Pompeii’ , by Anon. BBC News: Cambridgeshire

Scientists weigh in on ‘giraffe relative’ fossil by Helen Briggs. BBC News: Science & Environment

Sex with Neanderthals may be the cause of modern allergies, studies suggest by Doug Bolton. Independent: Science

Scientific articles

Patterson, R.T., Huckerby, G., Kelly, T.J., Swindles, G.T. & Nasser, N.A. (2015) Hydroecology of Amazonian lacustrine Arcellinida (testate amoebae): A case study from Lake Quistococha, Peru. European Journal of Protistology 51, 460-469. DOI: 10.1016/j.ejop.2015.06.009

Pitulko, V.V., Tikhonov, A.N., Pavlova, E.Y., Nikolskiy, P.A., Kuper, K.E. & Polozov, R.N. (2016) Early human presence in the Arctic: Evidence from 45,000-year-old mammoth remains. Science 351, 260-263. DOI: 10.1126/science.aad0554

Moseley, G.E., Edwards, R.L., Wendt, K.A., Cheng, H., Dublyansky, Y., Lu, Y., Boch, R. & Spotl, C. (2016) Reconciliation of the Devils Hole climate record with orbital forcing. Science 351, 165-168. DOI: 10.1126/science.aad4132


Online, open access:

McMichael, C., Piperno, D., Neves, E., Bush, M., Almeida, F. & Mongelo, G. (2015) Phytolith assemblages along a gradient of ancient human disturbance in western Amazonia. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 3. DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2015.00141

Bakker, E.S., Gill, J.L., Johnson, C.N., Vera, F.W.M., Sandom, C.J., Asner, G.P. & Svenning, J. (2015) Combining paleo-data and modern exclosure experiments to assess the impact of megafauna extinctions on woody vegetation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1502545112

Bakker, E.S., Pagès, J.F., Arthur, R. & Alcoverro, T. (2015) Assessing the role of large herbivores in the structuring and functioning of freshwater and marine angiosperm ecosystems. Ecography DOI:10.1111/ecog.01651

Dillehay, T.D., Ocampo, C., Saavedra, J., Sawakuchi, A.O., Vega, R.M., Pino, M., Collins, M.B., Scott Cummings, L., Arregui, I., Villagran, X.S., Hartmann, G.A., Mella, M., Gonzalez, A. & Dix, G. (2015) New Archaeological Evidence for an Early Human Presence at Monte Verde, Chile. PLoS ONE 10, e0141923. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141923

Göldel, B., Kissling, W.D. & Svenning, J. (2015) Geographical variation and environmental correlates of functional trait distributions in palms (Arecaceae) across the New World. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. DOI: 10.1111/boj.12349

Pardi, M.I. & Smith, F.A. (2015) Biotic responses of canids to the terminal Pleistocene megafauna extinction. Ecography.  DOI: 10.1111/ecog.01596

Roy, N., Woollett, J. & Bhiry, N. (2015) Paleoecological perspectives on landscape history and anthropogenic impacts at Uivak Point, Labrador, since AD 1400. The Holocene 25, 1742-1755. DOI: 10.1177/0959683615591350

African ecology in context

May 14, 2014


I am delighted to be organizing a focus session at the first AfQUA meeting. The session seeks to bring together ecologists and palaeoecologists working in Africa. If you are interested in getting involved please contact me (William Gosling) directly. For further information on the conference visit the AfQUA website or twitter feed.

Focus session 1: African ecology in context
The African continent spans over 80 degrees of latitude, nearly 6000 m of altitude and around 30 million km2 consequently it contains a vast array of unique ecosystems. Many of the African ecosystems are under direct pressure from human activity and are threatened by on-going and projected climate change. However, management and conservation of the modern African ecosystems is hampered by a paucity of data on their natural history. Studies of observations of ecosystems spanning >30 years are rare so we are heavily reliant on examination of the fossil record to place modern ecology in a long-term (>50 year) context. Information on past ecosystems can be extracted through the examination of a range of biological indicators (e.g. pollen, carbon isotopes, charcoal) found within marine and lake sediments. However, interpretation of the sediments and the proxies they contain with the ecosystems observed today is challenging because of timescale and interpretation issues. The aim of this session is to bring together modern ecologists and paleo-ecologists working in Africa to present the state-of-the-art understanding of ecosystems past and present, and explore how we can improve understanding of timescales and proxy interpretation to place these threatened ecosystems in context.

Montoya PhD thesis 2011

May 8, 2014

Montoya, E. (2011) Paleocology of the southern Gran Sabana (SE Venezuela) since the Late Glacial to the present. PhD Thesis, Department of Animal Biology, Plant Biology and Ecology, Unitersitat Autonoma de Barcelona.


EM Venezuela (2007)


This thesis is aimed to study the paleoecology of the southern Gran Sabana region (GS; SE Venezuela) since the Late Glacial to the present. This region is characterized nowadays by the occurrence of large extent of savannas in a climate suitable for rainforests. For this purpose, three sequences (two from peat bogs and one from lake sediments) have been analyzed for pollen and spores, non-pollen palynomorphs (NPP), and microscopic charcoal particles. Among the sequences analyzed, two of them are located currently within treeless savannas (Lakes Chonita and Encantada); whereas the third one is placed in the boundary between GS savannas and Amazon forests (El Paují). The Late Glacial interval of Lake Chonita was characterized by a shrubland that was replaced by a treeless savanna at the end of Younger Dryas (YD) and the onset of the Holocene, linked to the occurrence of regional fires since ca. 12.4 cal kyr BP. The beginning of local fires was dated synchronous with the vegetation replacement, ca. 11.7 cal kyr BP. A similar shrubland, though not identical, is located nowadays around 200 m elevation above the lake, so the replacement by surrounding savannas was interpreted as a probably upward displacement of the former vegetation and an increase in average temperatures of approximately 0.7 ‐1.5ºC. This section represents the oldest interval analyzed for GS so far, and the presence of fires during the Late Pleistocene is among the oldest fire records documented for northern South America. The peat bog records of Lake Encantada and El Paují showed the main vegetation trends of the last 8 cal kyr BP, which were characterized by the continuous occurrence of regional fires. In Lake Encantada, the presence of treeless savannas was reported during the whole interval analyzed as the dominant vegetation type, despite variations in forest abundance and composition taxa of the community also occurred. The vegetation changes in this record were interpreted as mainly due to climatic shifts until the Late Holocene. At El Paují, the occurrence of forests and savanna/forest mosaics was reported during the same interval, and fire was postulated to have been the major driver of the vegetation shifts. In this sequence, a treeless savanna was not recorded as the dominant vegetation of the landscape until the last millennia, and the presence of two different indigenous cultures was postulated as responsible of the shifts in fire regime registered, with an interval of human land abandonment between them. This interval was characterized by the cessation of fires, and the establishment of a secondary dry forest. The Late Holocene was characterized, in the three sequences studied, by a sudden increase of fires, which likely favored the expansion of savannas and the establishment of the present GS landscape.

The join interpretation of the records presented in this thesis, together with previous analyses in the region, highlighted some key aspects for understanding the main trends of GS landscape and vegetation, e.g., the appearance and establishment of morichales (Mauritia palm stands typical of current southern GS landscapes) has been restricted to the last two millennia, synchronous with the increase in fire incidence. Moreover, it has been possible to gather empirical evidence for testing some previous hypothesis regarding GS. For example, the proposal of an extended aridity prior the Holocene has been rejected, whereas the hypothesis about the postglacial expansion of morichales has been supported. In this sense, with all the available information to date, some suggestions have been proposed: (i) Climate and fire have been the major forcing factors operating in the GS; (ii) During the Late Glacial and the beginning of the Early Holocene, the landscape of southern GS was likely formed by a mosaic of forests, shrubs, and savannas, without the current supremacy of the last vegetation type, which only established during the last 2 cal kyr BP onwards; (iii) Some general climatic trends have been inferred for the study area, as for example an increase in average temperatures around the Late Glacial/Early Holocene transition, a dry interval from 8 to 5 cal kyr BP, and a wetter phase during the Mid-Holocene centered around 4 cal kyr BP; (iv) The establishment of Mauritia in the region has been likely driven by a synergism between biogeographical, climatic and anthropogenic factors, as well as the likely pyrophilous nature of this palm given its synchronous appearance with the increase of fires; (v) The settlement of the modern indigenous culture (Pemón) occurred at least since around ca. 2000 cal yr BP onwards, 1500 yr earlier than previously thought, but previous human presence in the region has been also documented; and (vi) The fire activity observed in the long-term has caused a huge impact on GS landscape.

Supervisor: Dr Valenti Rull (Botanic Institute of Barcelona); Tutor: Dr Iñigo G. de la Cerda (Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona)

Examined by: Prof. Jose S. Carrion (Univesity of Murcia), Dr Toby Pennington (Royal Botanic Garden of Ediburgh), Prof. Francisco LLoret (Autonomous University of Barcelona), Dr Fred Stauffer, (Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques Ville de Geneve), and Dr Walter Finsinger (CNRS).

To access to this thesis PF file from the library service of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, please click here.

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Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) annual international conference – 2013

August 30, 2013

Palaeo-people at the RGS-IBG meeting plotting future papers and grants.

Palaeo-people at the RGS-IBG meeting plotting future papers and grants. Left-right: Encarni Montoya, Joe Williams, Hayley Keen and Frazer Bird.

RGS – IBG Annul International Conference 2013
27th – 30th August, London

Yesterday (29th August) four members of the Palaeoenvironmental Change Research Group (PCRG) went down to London for the third day of the Royal Geographical Society with IBG (RGS – IBG) international conference for a day of informative talks. Two of the morning sessions were of particular interest to us with the sessions entitled ‘Human – environment interactions in the Neotropics: historical impact to current challenges’ organised by John Carson, Lizzy Rushton and Sarah Metcalfe.

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