The second in my series highlighting papers in the recent volume of Palaeoecology of Africa (published entirely open access online) focuses on the research articles. The research articles make up the ‘guts’ of the volume, comprising 10 of the 24 papers. Three of these are from western Africa (Dinies et al.; Gosling et al.; Lemonnier & Lézine), two from eastern Africa (Githumbi et al.; Kinyanjui et al.), two from central Africa (Richards; Gaillard et al.), and three from southern Africa (Chevalier et al.; Hill & Finch, Hill et al.). These research articles present new data and key insights into past environmental change in Africa, which fall into two broad categories, providing information on: (i) how we can extract information from pollen data sets, and (ii) the processes operating to drive vegetation.
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.
My first AFQUA conference really began the day before the conference proper started in the Kenyan immigration queue where I met a number of fellow delegates who were flying in from all over the world. It was great to start to put faces to names of people who’s work I had read for many years. Once out of the airport transfer to the hotel was smooth, and it was with some excitement that the following morning I made the short walk from the hotel to the famous Nairobi National Museum for the start of the conference.
Prof. Andy Cohen (one of my fellow delegates in the immigration line) kicked off the AFQUA conference with a plenary giving an overview of African continental drilling projects. He traced the dream of the recovery of long continental records back to Daniel Livingstone and Neil Opdyke’s workshop from 1980 that set out the dream of obtaining long records from the continent. He then went on to give examples of how multi-millennial lake records, including Lake Malawi, can be used to understand the tempo of ecological change.
The first session of the conference, entitled “East Africa”, included: exciting evidence of Deinotherium the largest land mammal of the Quaternary (J.-P. Brugal), the use of d13C in determining homonin ecology (V.M. Iminjili), and evidence from a new c. 200,000 year old site at Natodomeri (Kenya) that contains evidence of homonids, elephids, giant lions and pigmy hippos (F.K. Manthi).
The second session of AFQUA covered “The environmental context for homonin evolution and dispersal”. This started with geochemical data from Chew Bahir that sheds light on potential drivers of climatic shifts (F. Schabitz), and included examination of changes climate between c. 500,000 and 320,000 years ago that coincided with the shift from hominid use of large cutting tools to smaller implements (R. Potts), and discussion of the environment the route which hominids took out of Africa (F. Henselowsky).