“Can you go back?” by Mark Bush – Part 1

September 17, 2019
WDG

Mark Bush

Mark Bush

This is the first in a special series of three guest blog posts by my friend, mentor and collaborator the tropical palaeoecologist and biogeographer Prof. Mark Bush (Florida Institute of Technology).

We are often told that you “cannot go back”, meaning that a place that provided wonderful memories will disappoint when revisited. Putting this into current conservation-speak we don’t like to be reminded that our baselines are shifting. Recently I had a chance to revisit a part of Ecuadorean Amazonia I had not been to for 30 years. I was a bit hesitant to go. Would I be disappointed or could the experience live up to my recollection?

In 1988, I went on a lengthy field season in Ecuador. We were searching for a glacial-age record that could test the refugial hypothesis of Amazonian speciation. Some lakes that lay in Ecuadorian Amazonia showed promise as they appeared to be a long way from major river channels, and only connected by their outlets into the Cuyabeno River. Would these lakes hold glacial-aged records? Would they show a history of rainforest or savanna during the last ice age?

We started from the frontier town of Lago Agrio, which was rough in every way, dirty, and somewhere we couldn’t wait to leave.  Driving to the end of the road and then picking up motorized canoes we were, by nightfall, able to get to the first tourist/research lodge to be established in what is now the Cuyabeno Faunistic Reserve. The trip there was basically uneventful, but a quick tour of the lake in our motorized dugout revealed a substantial inflowing river that had been hidden by cloud on the aerial imagery. We had been hoping for a headwater system, not an essentially riverine lake. Nevertheless, we cored the middle of the lake. The coring was tough as the river was washing clays into the system and these settled to form stiff, sticky, gray sediments. After one or two meters of coring, hammering was essential to get any penetration, but getting the core back out was the real challenge. The inflatable boats were sinking as we strained upward on the coring rig, but still we couldn’t break the device free from the clay. We tried everything: we clamped the boats to the coring rig when they were fully flooded, then bailed the boats out, hoping the added buoyancy would break the corer free. It didn’t. So we refilled the boats, re-clamped, bailed, and then all jumped out. Still nothing. In the end we resorted to the nuclear option, which is to hammer upward on the drill rig. The modified Livingstone coring rig we were using was designed to be hammered downward, but hammering upward can seriously damage the drill string. Nevertheless, it worked. Darkness was closing over us by the time we managed to free the rig, but already we knew that the core wasn’t the glacial-age record we had been hoping for. Faces in camp that evening were pretty glum. As the old axiom goes, we defined insanity by repeating the procedure in the next lake in the chain and, unsurprisingly, got the same outcome – another young core.

Victoriano, Haki, shaman and head of the Siona Nation in Cuyabeno. Photo: M. Bush.

Victoriano, Haki, shaman and head of the Siona Nation in Cuyabeno. Photo: M. Bush.

We resolved to move on and try another target system, Laguna Zancudococha. Our hosts and guides were members of the Siona nation, and their Hako (Chief) was a vibrant 82-year old called Victoriano. There was a long discussion deciding whether we could go to Zancudococha as it was their ‘origin’ lake and therefore sacred. Eventually, it was decided that we could go. The journey would take at least two days and although Victoriano knew the way, none of the others had been there before.

To be continued…

Cloudy with a chance of adventure

April 8, 2019
WDG

Rachel Sales, Bryan Valencia, and Majoi de Novaes Nascimento coring a different lake. In this picture, we have just pulled a core of mud up from the bottom of the lake. Photo credit: Seringe Huisman

Rachel Sales, Bryan Valencia, and Majoi de Novaes Nascimento coring a different lake. In this picture, we have just pulled a core of mud up from the bottom of the lake. Photo credit: Seringe Huisman

Cloudy with a chance of adventure
By Rachel Sales (PhD researcher at the Institute for Global Ecology, Florida Institute of Technology)

I am sitting on the shore of Lago Condorcillo in Southern Ecuador, after a long day of travel, trying to control my shivering. At roughly 10,500 ft. above sea level, the lake is very cold, with wind that howls over the barren hills dotted with giant boulders. The lake is also almost always blanketed by thick fog and pelted by driving rain. When you’re surrounded by the thick fog punctuated by lightning bolts, it’s easy to believe that some lost civilization lurks just out of sight. Tonight we are experiencing lightning storms, which is adding to the feeling that some angry, ancient life form must live at Lago Condorcillo.

Tomorrow, I will be out in the cold and rain, balancing on an inflatable boat and fighting frostbite. Mark Bush, who is my Ph.D. advisor, Courtney Shadik, who is my lab partner and tent buddy, and I will be collecting cores of mud from the bottom of Condorcillo. We will create our rig for coring by tying two inflatable boats together, and placing a wooden platform between them. Mark, Courtney, and I will then collect our mud cores from this platform.

As I’m contemplating the hazards of camping in a lightning storm, Mark says, “Tell me everything that went wrong today.” Courtney pulls a sleeping bag closer to her. I begin to describe how Google Maps can’t seem to understand distance in the Andes, and so traveling to Lago Condorcillo took much longer than we anticipated. Courtney laughs beside me and adds, “We don’t have any matches to start a fire.” Despite our troubles, I am grinning from ear to ear, no doubt spoiling the grim mood Mark is attempting to cultivate and Lago Condorcillo is doing its best to enforce.

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Valencia PhD thesis 2014

March 5, 2015
WDG

Bryan-Kuelap-gate-2010-smallValencia Castillo, B.G. (2014) From glacial to modern conditions: Vegetation and climate change under human influence in the Central Andes. PhD Thesis, Department of Environment, Earth & Ecosystems, The Open University.

Abstract
Conservation, restoration and management strategies are employed to maintain Earth’s biological diversity and physical environment to a near “natural” state. However, the concept of “natural” is generally inexact and may include degraded landscapes. In absence of long-term empirical data of natural baselines, impacted assemblages (human altered baselines) could be falsely assumed to be natural and set as conservation or restoration goals. Therefore, the identification of long-term ecological baselines becomes a pressing requirement especially in threatened biodiversity hotspots such as the tropical Andes that were under human pressure for several millennial.

This thesis aims to identify ecological baselines for tropical Andean ecosystems based on multi-proxy palaeoecological reconstructions from three Andean lakes. Trends of vegetation change are used to identify when landscapes became anthropogenic in the Andes. Because vegetation assemblages at c. 10 ka experienced negligible anthropogenic impacts and had modern-like climate condition, this time was considered the most recent period likely to provide insight into natural ecological baseline conditions.

Changes in vegetation assemblages were evaluated over time departing from 10 ka around Miski and Huamanmarca, two sites that remained virtually impervious to human impacts. Baselines in Miski and Huamanmarca drifted continuously over time and showed that baselines are dynamic entities. The vegetation assemblages derived from Miski and Huamanmarca suggest that that human impact was not homogeneous throughout the Andean landscape.

Once baselines were defined it was possible to evaluate if the spatial distribution of Andean woodlands represented by Polylepis was a product of human impacts. A MaxEnt model generated based on 22 modern environmental variables and 13 palaeoecological vegetation reconstructions showed that Polylepis woodlands were naturally fragmented before humans arrived in South America (14 ka). However, the influence of humans during the mid and late Holocene enhanced the patchiness of the forest generating a hyper-fragmented landscape.

Supervisors: Dr. William D. Gosling , Dr. Angela L. Coe (both The Open University) and Prof. Mark B. Bush (Florida Institute of Technology).

Examined by: Dr. Robert Marchant (University of York), and Prof. David Gowing (The Open University).

To borrow a copy from The Open University Library click here.

PCRG January

February 12, 2014
WDG

January 2014 has been pretty mad for me but included presenting a poster at the Quaternary Research Association annual meeting, and taking on the role of chair of the British Ecological Society Eduaction, Training and Careers Committee“.

Tardigrade egg found in Ghanaian pollen trap by Adele

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

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
  • Miller, C.S. & Gosling, W.D. (2014) Quaternary forest associations in lowland tropical West Africa. Quaternary Science Reviews, 84, 7-25. doi: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2013.10.027
  • Sayer, E.J., Featherstone, H.C. & Gosling, W.D. (2014) Sex & Bugs & Rock n Roll: getting creative about public engagement. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 29, 65-67. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2013.12.008

Fieldwork in Ecuador 2013

December 13, 2013
WDG

Nick and Will with Carman (director of the Pindo Mirador biological station)

Nick and Will with Carman (director of the Pindo Mirador biological station)

Three members of the PCRG (William Gosling, Encarni Montoya and Nick Loughlin) visited Ecuador (November-December 2013) to develop collaborations with Ecuadorian institutions, recover more lake sediments, and find new potential sites for projects. Below are some photos from:

  1. Lake Pindo, 
  2. Lake Huila, and
  3. Lake Erazo.

Full reports on specific aspects of the fieldwork to follow.

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