I’m rattling down an unpaved road in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The brakes screech at every turn, and the chain is close to falling off. Unsurprisingly, the rain is pouring, turning the road into a maze of puddles and mud. The road follows the Anzu River, and I can hear its roar off to my right.
I’m forcing a perfectly innocent bike to brave the Amazon because this road leads to the Herbario Amazónico of the Universidad Estatal Amazónica (ECUAMZ). ECUAMZ (an acronym for “Ecuador Amazon”) is the only herbarium in the Amazon, and contains a repository of plant specimens for preservation and help with field identifications. It was established by Dr. David Neill, a specialist in the Fabaceae (legume) family and world-renowned expert in tropical botany, and Dr. Mercedes Asanza, the coordinator of the herbarium. They have agreed to mentor me over the summer and teach me about tropical plants. The Herbario Amazónico, which contains over 17,000 vascular plant species, is the perfect place to learn.
The view from the top of the tower at Jatun Sacha.
Gosling, W.D. (2004) Characterisation of Amazonian forest and savannah ecosystems by their modern pollen spectra. PhD Thesis, Department of Geography, University of Leicester.
WDG Bolivia (2002)
Controversy surrounds the Quaternary palaeoenvironmental history of Amazonia. It is unclear whether moist evergreen forest, savannah or seasonally dry forest dominated the Amazon basin at the last glacial maximum (c. 21,000 years B.P.). In part the uncertainty surrounding the palaeoenvironmental history of Amazonia stems from a poor understanding of the ecological significance of the fossil pollen records from the region. In order to improve interpretations of the fossil pollen record it is essential to better understand the nature of the pollen rain produced by modern ecosystems.
In this thesis, three Neotropical ecosystems equivalent to those alluded to above were characterised by their modern pollen rain. This was achieved by examining samples collected in artificial pollen traps located within permanent (50 x 200 m) vegetation plots in the Noel Kempff Mercado National Park area, Bolivia. In each plot 10 traps were sampled for one field season (September 1998 to September 1999, or September 2000 to September 2001) and 5 traps were sampled from two additional field seasons (between 1998 and 2001). Pollen counts of at least 100 grains were made for each trap. In total 318 pollen taxa were distinguished, of which 116 were identified. The characteristic pollen from each of the three ecosystems were determined through a series of steps: spatial and temporal variations were explored using Spearman’s Rank correlations, the distinctive taxa of each ecosystem were identified using Principal Components Analyses (PCA), and the representativity of the pollen for each ecosystem was examined by comparing pollen and vegetation abundances. These analyses revealed a small number of taxa that can be used to characterize these ecosystems. Further PCA showed that it is possible to differentiate between the ecosystems by assessing the relative proportions of Didymopanax, Alchornea, Anadenanthera, Melastomataceae/Combretaceae, Moraceae/Urticaceae, Myrtaceae, Palmae, Pteropsidia (trilete), Poaceae and Solanum. These findings mean that it is now possible to detect these ecosystems in the fossil pollen record and consequently further information regarding the nature of the vegetation change in the Amazon basin can be gained.