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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