The primary focus of the new state-of-the-art palaeoecology laboratory at Nelson Mandela University is to conduct palynological studies, with a strong geographic emphasis on the Cape south coast and the Cape Floristic Region in general. While our initial and primary focus will be on pollen analysis, our overarching goal is to establish a highly versatile open science resource-base for palaeoscience research at Nelson Mandela University.
Erin Hilmer completed an undergraduate BSc degree at Nelson Mandela University followed by an honours in geology at the University of Stellenbosch. In addition to her role as the Senior Laboratory Technician of the new palaeolab, she manages Port Elizabeth’s only pollen and spore trap and generates weekly pollen and spore data for the city. This work forms part of a national monitoring network (www.pollencount.co.za). She also has expertise in geochronology and scanning electron (SEM) microscopy.
The month-long palaeoecology module at UvA is coming to an end. We have had two weeks of lectures and microscope work, an introduction to quantitative palaeoecology, and we just finished a week of fieldwork in Twente, which is in the easternmost part of the Netherlands.
Students working in the field (photo: M. Groot)
Will Gosling and I tried something new for the field excursion this year. We split the class into eight groups, and gave each group a set of pollen and phytolith samples from an ‘unknown location’. Unknown in this context means being from one of the eight primary sites that we would visit during the field excursion. The students were required to perform vegetation surveys and characterize soils at each of the primary sites that we visited. The goal of each group was to figure out which location their set of ‘unknown’ samples came from. Basically, we had them doing forensic palynology, with idea that they could then better visualize the different vegetation assemblages seen in the palaeoecological records. Continue Reading
Tardigrade egg found in Ghanaian pollen trap by Adele
Here is a summary of what other people have been up to:
Lottie Miller: submission and approval of thesis corrections (hooray), working on British Ecological Society grant application.
Hayley Keen: is finishing up lab work (macro charcoal – done, XRF – done, wood macrofossils – thin sectioned, awaiting identification, pollen – just 4 more samples!); and dealing with minor review revisions to first submitted paper (hooray).
Frazer Bird: finished the data collection for two Ecuadorian lakes (Banos and Pindo) and will hopefully begin to write up this data soon; attended the NERC stats course (very useful; would advise everyone to try and get on it).
Nick Loughlin: has split and logged the sediment cores recovered from Lake Huila (Ecuador) during recent fieldwork, and begun preparing the samples for pollen.
Adele Julier: has been preparing pollen trap samples from Ghana and learning tropical pollen.
Emily Sear: has mostly been on holiday and we are still waiting for the post card! She has also been working at getting results that make sense from the MS2.
Phil Jardine: has been oxidising spores to see what it does to the chemistry, generating FTIR data with the oxidised samples and starting the numerical analysis, and editing film footage from the 2013 Ghana trip.
Encarni Montoya: has been doing pollen lab and analysing pollen from Baños, and comparing the midges trends from Pindo and Baños with Frazer.
Wes Fraser: Reported back to Royal Society on finding from research grant – paper containing exciting results to follow in next couple of months.
Some pollen from Adele’s pollen traps in Ghana
We have also had 4 papers published with 2014 dates on them:
Cárdenas, M.L., Gosling, W.D., Pennington, R.T., Poole, I., Sherlock, S.C. & Mothes, P. (2014) Forests of the tropical eastern Andean flank during the middle Pleistocene. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 393: 76-89. doi: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2013.10.009
Fraser, W.T., Watson, J.S., Sephton, M.A., Lomax, B.H., Harrington, G., Gosling, W.D. & Self, S. (2014) Changes in spore chemistry and appearance with increasing maturity. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology, 201, 41-46. doi:10.1016/j.revpalbo.2013.11.001
Despite the disruption of the lab refit Hayley and Frazer have been cracking on with pollen and chironomid analysis. Encarni and Frazer returned from field work in Ecuador and half the samples have so far made it back to The Open University; we now wait with anticipation for customs to release the other box!
Four shiny new workstations from the other side – woo
Two NERC algorithm funded PhD studentships are currently available with the PCRG. The projects are focused on understanding past environmental change in west tropical Africa and Amazonian-Andean Ecuador. Both projects will involve field work and build on on-going research within the lab.
Closing date 31/01/2013
One project will work on samples collected during fieldwork in 2012 near Papallacta (Ecuador).
Laboratory activity has continued through February with progress on pollen counts (Lottie and Hayley) and chironomid (non-biting midges) picking (Frazer). Hayley also managed to escape the microscope lab for a short period: 1) to commence work on selecting samples from tephras for Ar-Ar dating, and 2) to counduct loss-on-ignition analysis of organic samples to identify the constituents of her sediment. I did not make it on to the microscope 😦
I was however very pleased to welcome Macarena Cardenas back into the lab as a visiting Research Fellow. Maca will be working on the pollen reference collection, assisting with PhD student analysis and continuing to write papers during her renewed association.
Frazer, Hayley and I have also begun planning for field work in Ecuador for April-May. We will be working in collaboration with the Instituto Geophisico in Quito and the plan is to visit the Mera site which Hayley is working on, and to collect lake surface samples for Frazer to examine the midges. In preparation for the collection of midges samples expert, and project co-supervisor, Steve Brooks (Natural History Museum) visited for a day to brief us on how best to do this.
Away from research I have been working on writing exam questions and tutor marked assignments for the level 3 module The geological record of environmental change (S369, to those familliar with OU codes!). Hopefully, I have managed to set some interesting and challenging tasks for our students. . .
January 2012 has been a busy one for the Palaeoenvironmental Change Research Group members we have been getting out and about (attending three research meetings), there has been activity in the labs (pollen, chironomids and geochemical analysis all being undertaken) and developments with the publication of our research (book chapter published and two papers moved along in the publication process).