Detecting the presence, and impact, of peoples past impact in ecosystems and landscapes in the tropics is a challenging because the traces that they leave behind are few and disentangling them from ‘natural’ (non-human related) variability is a challenge. As an Associate Editor for Vegetation History & Archaeobotany (VHAA) I enjoy handling manuscripts that think about these issues and explore the role of humans in tropical landscapes. Two recent papers published in VHAA touched on this subject (one of which I “communicated” as an editor).
Bodin et al. (2020) studied charcoal recovered from soil at sites with a gradient of archaeological evidence for past human activity in French Guiana.
Goethals & Verschuren (2019) explored the relationship between the amount of dung fungi found in lake sediments and the herbivore populations living around the lakes.
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
Mark Bush and I are proud to announce that a tribute to Prof. Daniel Livingston and Prof. Paul Colinvaux has recently been published in Quaternary Research. Dan and Paul were both pioneers of tropical pal(a)eoecology and both died in the spring of 2016 . To mark their passing Mark and I have guest edited ten new papers on palaeoecology drawn from researchers, and regions, of the tropics in which Dan and Paul worked (Bush & Gosling, 2018). We would like to thank Quaternary Research Senior Editor Derek Booth for giving us this opportunity and assisting greatly in the process of compiling the manuscripts. We would also like to thank all to contributing authors for their hard work and dedication to the project. We hope that you will enjoy reading the manuscripts and find them a fitting tribute to the life and work of these two great researchers.
Loughlin, N.J.D., Gosling, W.D. & Montoya, E. (2017) Identifying environmental drivers of fungal non-pollen palynomorphs in the montane forest of the eastern Andean flank, Ecuador. Quaternary Research. DOI: 10.1017/qua.2017.73
Matthews-Bird, F., Brooks, S.J., Gosling, W.D., Gulliver, P., Mothes, P. & Montoya, E. (2017) Aquatic community response to volcanic eruptions on the Ecuadorian Andean flank: Evidence from the palaeoecological record. Journal of Paleolimnology 58: 437-453. DOI: 10.1007/s10933-017-0001-0
Having recently become an Associate Editor for Vegetation History & Archaeobotany I have decided that I will try and highlight a couple papers from the journal each months which have caught my attention. My first selections are:
A study which demonstrated the close relationship between the fossil fungal spore record and historical accounts (Orbay-Cerrato et al., 2017).
An investigation of a human modification of ecosystems on the sub-tropical Pacific island of New Caledonia using fossil wood charcoal remains (Dotte-Sarout, 2017)
For more detailed thoughts on these papers read on…
Hi I’m Tessa and really excited to introduce myself here!
I’m an Environmental Biology Master student from Utrecht University (UU) doing a research internship in Amsterdam with William Gosling and Rike Wagner of the UU. Most people would describe me as a typical biologist because I like identifying plants and know some birds by their name. Personally I disagree because I lack the beard and hardly wear woollen socks. Besides looking at birds and plants I’m also interested in biodiversity and palaeoecology, and I will try to combine these interests in my research project on a sediment core from Samoa. I will be working on lake sediment cores from Samoa and hope fossil record can give me an overview of the natural history of the island (past c. 10,000 years); and an insight into what impact human colonisation had on the biodiversity. To explore the islands natural history I will be looking at pollen, charcoal and non pollen palynomorphs.
The sediment core on which I will be working has already been recovered and currently resides in beautiful Southampton (UK). So I’m spared of a 30 hour trip to tropical Samoa and the opportunity to return with some Samoan tattoo’s and a tan… So thanks to David Sear and his team at the University of Southampton with whom I will be collaborating for this project.
I have a long standing interest in tropical islands. Before commencing this research internship I did my first masters internship at WWF Indonesia. For my WWF internship I spent three months in the tropics collecting baseline ecological data on timber companies located in a new reserve in Sumatra. Furthermore, during my bachelor degree, I did a research internship at Naturalis Biodiversity Center investigating the “Correlation between higher altitudes and endemic plant species” in the Malayan archipelago. Our results turned out much better then we hoped for and fingers crossed our article will be accepted soon!
In three weeks I will be starting in the lab in Amsterdam and hopefully in a few months will be able to post an update about my results here.
Last month I had the opportunity of attending the 3-days non-pollen palynomorphs (NPP) workshop that was held at the Tallinn University, Estonia. It was perfectly organised by Tiiu Koff and Egle Avi among other members of the university, as it was a join workshop of Cladocera remains (XII Subfossil Cladocera workshop; 16-18th June) and NPP (18-20th June). Unfortunately, I was just present in the NPP workshop, so my comments will be focus on it.
With around 40 participants, we greatly enjoyed the discussions that came up about the state-of-the-art of this broad and interesting proxy and its implications for archaeology, palaeolimnology, and different aspects of ecology like human landscape management, biodiversity and conservation, or community assemblages. Current methodological problems like taxonomy, standardisation of lab techniques, etc., were also debated.
Opening and key lectures were from Bas van Geel and Emilie Gauthier, showing the development of this discipline over the last 40 years, and a great example of multi-proxy project aimed to study the human arrival and impact in Greenland respectively. Besides oral and poster presentations, last day there was a microscope session, very useful for sharing knowledge and uncertainties! In our specific case, Will, Hayley and I contributed with a poster titled “Non-pollen palynomorphs in Ecuador: starting from scratch”.
Personally, among the things I most like from the NPP meetings is the friendly and close environment, where everyone is more than glad to help others, regardless the experience. Following this feeling of small and scattered group of people dealing with the same issues, we used to do a final remark session every workshop raising the advances and inconveniences found so far, updating our NPP papers repository (managed by Antonella Miola), and addressing future directions as a group (for instance, we have now our own project in ResearchGate, thanks to Lyudmila Shumilovskikh!). In this particular workshop, I was very happy when I found out that Tallinn University has a green policy (paper free), and they replaced book abstracts etc., by iPads to follow the workshop schedule.
Although these meetings are normally biannual, next conference location and date is yet to be decided, but we hope to have the chance to join this very friendly and supporting community again. In addition, there will be a NPP session in the next European Palaeobotany and Palynology congress, tobe held in University of Padova (Italy), next August 2014. We encourage people with all kind of experience (or lack of) to attend further events.