Figure 1: (a) Illustrative images of sample locations in Amsterdam and the Hoge Veluwe. (b) The newly developed ‘pollen sniffer’ collects airborne pollen from the environment. (c) The FTIR can chemically characterise individual pollen grains.
Does environmental pollution enhance the allergenic nature of pollen? This is the question that drives my NWO Idea Generator grant that has just started. This project links up the pollen chemistry expertise in my group within the Department of Ecosystem & Landscape Dynamics (University of Amsterdam) and the work of Letty de Weger into human health and pollen (Leiden University Medical Centrum). Over the 2020 flowering season we will be monitoring pollen in Amsterdam (urban) and in the Hoge Veluwe (rural) in the space in which people have allergic reactions to see if there is any chemical difference between the pollen in urban and rural settings.
We are delighted that Cas Verbeek has joined the team as a Research Assistant; taking time out from his MSc Biological Sciences degree (University of Amsterdam). Cas is already busy in the field and lab fine tuning our collection and analysis protocols.
This is the first is a series of blog posts based on papers discussed at our “Amsterdam Palaeoecology Club” meetings. The APC meetings are organized to promote palaeoecological discussion and to help the scientific development of our MSc and BSc research students. At each meeting we discuss a paper and the progress of individual projects. Short summaries of the papers and discussions are then made by the student introducing the paper. First up is MSc researcher Rianne van Duinen with her thoughts on Kaplan et al. (2016).
Rianne on field work in Twente during the 2017 edition of the BSc Palaeoecology course at University of Amsterdam
We discussed the paper “Large scale anthropogenic reduction of forest cover in Last Glacial Maximum Europe“ by Kaplan et al. (2016) which was found by the group to be super interesting and it incited a lot of discussion. The paper was mostly concerned with the anthropogenic influences and past vegetation of Europe. The main conclusion was that humans had a very big impact on forests during the last glacial period through the use of fire. The authors suggest that human actions are the explaining factor for the low amount of forests cover suggested by pollen records during the last glacial maximum (c. 21,000 years ago). The suggestion from Kaplan et al. that human modification of forest cover through fire during the glacial links with a recent study from Sevink et al. (2018) that suggests, based on pollen and charcoal data from the Netherlands, that human use of fire altered forest cover into the Holocene. In our discussion it was also noted that animals (mega-herbivores) were not really taken into account or discussed, even though animals probably had a big impact on the vegetation (e.g. see Bakker et al., 2016). Furthermore, another discussion point was the charcoal records that were used in the Kaplan et al. study, more specifically the number of cores. Kaplan et al. only used three cores to map out the effect of charcoal. It would be interesting to see what happens when more data from more cores is used. The Global Charcoal Database has a lot of data on European cores (c. 38% of the cores are from Europe) so there is a lot of potential for this. All in all, the article by Kaplan et al. raised a lot of questions and opened up a nice discussion.
My name is Veerle, and I am in my first year of the Master in Biological Sciences, Ecology & Evolution track, at the University of Amsterdam. I also completed my BSc Biology at the University of Amsterdam, specializing in Ecology and Global Change. One of my favorite courses during my BSc was Palaeoecology, which led to a BSc research project with William Gosling and Crystal McMichael on the farming history in the Netherlands. I really enjoyed this project and it made me even more interested in palaeoecology. This year I have gotten the amazing opportunity to do another project with Crystal McMichael…. including a field expedition together with Britte Heijink and Nina Witteveen to Panama and Colombia! This was an amazing experience with a lot of fun, mud, insect repellent and most of all really nice cores! I am super excited to tell you about my field experiences, so soon we will post another blog about that!
Collecting the soil
Now that we’re back in Amsterdam, I’m analyzing phytoliths from Gigante (Panama) to reconstruct the fire and vegetation history. I’m especially interested in past agriculture and forest management to see if there were humans present in the area and how they affected the vegetation. Hopefully I can show you some nice results about that in the future!
This time you are reading a message from a non-expert in paleoecology. My name is Masha and I will spend the next two years on a very exciting postdoctoral fellowship funded by NWO (Dutch National Science Foundation) under their Rubicon scheme in close collaboration with William Gosling (University of Amsterdam).
Each project was set up to test a particular ecological or biogeographic hypothesis. Investigations included the exploration of the role of humans in modifying ecosystems in Amazon, the nature of the pre-farming landscape in the the Netherlands, and how to chemically identify fossil charcoal. In undertaking their projects individual students had the opportunity to variously develop skills in microscopy, spatial modelling, or analytical chemistry. The high quality of the data produced means that hopefully many of these data sets can be used in future scientific publications. Well done to all!
If you are interested in conducting a similar project (at any academic level) with us please do not hesitate to get in contact. For further details of ongoing research within the Department of Ecosystems & Landscape Dynamics visit our web pages by clicking here.