Week 1 (last week) we got everyone up to speed with the fundamentals of palaeoecology (including: key principles, depositional environments, dating methods) and laboratory skills (pollen, phytolith and macrofossil identification). This week (week 2) we are out and about (coring sediments, surveying vegetation and visiting the archaeology department). By the end of the week the students will (should!?) have generated sufficient data in the laboratory and field to be able to identify the location from which their mini-project “mystery slides” were taken. Next week (week 3) will be number crunching to generate the statistical support for their ideas and inferences.
Students collecting sediments using a Russian corer at Langenboom (September, 2022). These samples were recovered in collaboration with the BosGroep Zuid Nederland as part of an ongoing project to gain new insights into the nature of the past landscape in the Netherlands and aid conservation efforts.
Smeenge, H., Kooijman, A., Brinkkemper, O., Mars, H.d., Mauquoy, D. & van Geel, B. (2022) The origin of alkaline fen in the Mosbeek Valley in the Netherlands is due to human impact rather than a natural development. The Holocene 09596836221088230. DOI: 10.1177/09596836221088230
The montane cloud forests of South America are some of the most biodiverse habitats in the world, whilst also being especially vulnerable to climate change and human disturbance.
Today much of this landscape has been transformed into a mosaic of secondary forest and agricultural fields. This thesis uses palaeoecological proxies (pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs, charcoal, organic content) to interpret ecosystem dynamics during the late Quaternary, unravelling the vegetation history of the landscape and the relationship between people and the montane cloud forest of the eastern Andean flank of Ecuador. Two new sedimentary records are examined from the montane forest adjacent to the Río Cosanga (Vinillos) and in the Quijos Valley (Huila). These sites characterise the natural dynamics of a pre-human arrival montane forest and reveal how vegetation responded during historical changes in local human populations.
Non-pollen palynomorphs (NPPs) are employed in a novel approach to analyse a forest cover gradient across these sites. The analysis identifies a distinctive NPP assemblage connected to low forest cover and increased regional burning. Investigation into the late Pleistocene Vinillos sediments show volcanic activity to be the primary landscape-scale driver of ecosystem dynamics prior to human arrival, influencing montane forest populations but having little effect on vegetation composition.
Lake sediments at Huila from the last 700 years indicate the presence of pre-Hispanic peoples, managing and cultivating an open landscape. The subsequent colonization of the region by Europeans in the late 1500’s decimated the indigenous population, leading to the abandonment of the region in conjunction with an expansion in forest cover ca. 1588 CE. After approximately 130 years of vegetation recovery, montane cloud forest reached a stage of structural maturity comparable to that seen in the pre-human arrival forest. The following 100 years (1718-1822 CE) of low human population and minimal human impact in the region is proposed as a shifted ecological baseline for future restoration and conservation goals. This ‘cultural ecological baseline’ features a landscape that retains many of the ecosystem service provided by a pristine montane forest, while retaining the cultural history of its indigenous people within the vegetation. Continue Reading
Since being appointed as an Associate Editor of Vegetation History & Archaeobotany last year I have the pleasure of working on a number of exciting and interesting manuscripts from the tropics. I am particularly delighted that the first of these (Astudillo, 2018) has now been published. I particularly liked this manuscript because of: (i) the close relationship that was shown between the historical and fossil records, and (ii) the clear signal shown from working on a island system. This linkage is something I have been thinking about in my own research on Mauritius recently (Gosling et al., 2017) and is, I believe, particularly valuable to do because it demonstrates the validity of techniques to track human activity when applied in contexts without historical documentation. The impact of people on the Galapagos is shown by Astudillo (2018) from investigation of multiple proxies (charcoal, phytoliths and macrofossils) to build up a comprehensive picture of human impacts on one of the most famous places for biodiversity on Earth. Hopefully this study is just the start of investigations into past human impacts on the Galapagos islands, and I hope that you enjoy reading the manuscript!
University of Amsterdam MSc Biological Sciences student Jippe Kreuning investigated the contents of cesspits in the Dutch city of Deventer for his research project. Jippe investigated fossil pollen, seeds and other biological remains to discover what people in the ancient city were eating. In doing so Jippe gained new insights into ancient trade routes.
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