Environments Through Time paper presentations

November 6, 2018
WDG

The 2018 edition of the University of Amsterdam masters course “Environments Through Time” is now up and running. The course sits at the interface between ecology, physical geography and archaeology and seeks to provide students with a better understanding of how long-term (>100’s years) datasets can provide insights in to past environmental change.

In the first week of the course the students had to present their ‘favourite’ paper in just three (3) minutes! Quite a challenge and lots of fun. This years selection of papers themed around:

  • mega-fauna extinctions (Bakker et al., 2016; Gill et al., 2009; van der Kaars et al., 2017),
  • impacts of human land use practices (Bitusik et al., 2018; Carson et al., 2014; Chepstow-Lusty et al., 2009; Gauthier et al., 2010; Tisdall et al., 2018), and
  • climatic drivers of vegetation change (Haug et al., 2001; Tierney et al., 2017; Tudhope et al., 2001).

For full list of papers presented see below.

In the second and third weeks (now ongoing) students get to deconstruct published chronologies and conduct time series analsis of multi-proxy datasets. Data for these excercises is frequently is extracted from databases such as Neotoma, Pangea, NOAA – paleoclimatology datasets database and the Global Charcoal Database – which shows the importance of these open access databases for developing effective research led eductation, as well as pushing forward to frontiers of research.

Environments Through Time is taught in English, delivered by myself (William Gosling), Crystal McMichael and Milan Tunissen van Manen and currently has 31 registered students from MSc Biological Sciences and MSc Earth Sciences degrees.

Full list of papers presented by students on the Environments Through Time course in 2018 Continue Reading

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.

Frazer on climate change & insects – AGU video

September 8, 2014
WDG

Frazer Matthews-Bird’s video on his PhD research examining long-term (>50 year) climate change from fossil insects (chironomids) has been shortlisted for the American Geophysical Union (AGU) student competition prize. Please watch Frazer’s video and “Like”; the most liked video will win free entry into the AGU Fall meeting 2014.

View all the videos on the AGU YouTube channel.

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.

Continue Reading

Forests of the tropical eastern Andean flank during the middle Pleistocene: An insight of how highly biodiverse forests lived without us

October 31, 2013
WDG

Photo taken close by the study site. The road that pass through Eastern Andes, and the magnificent Montane forest of western Amazonia behind. (Photo by M. L. Cárdenas)

Photo taken close by the study site. The road that pass through Eastern Andes, and the magnificent Montane forest of western Amazonia behind. (Photo by M. L. Cárdenas)

Who would have thought that building a road in Andes would have allowed us to gain new and unique insight of pristine western- Amazonian forests? (I would have thought completely the opposite). Initially Patricia Mothes, chief of the volcanologist section of the Intituto de Geofisica in Ecuador, was called to look at sediments exposed by road works on the eastern flank of the Ecuadorian Andes. Arriving at the site she found thick (>20 vertical meters) deposits of grayish and dark brown interbedded layers of sediments which looked like they have been recently deposited. At closer inspection Patricia discovered that there were even wood pieces and leaves within the dark sediments (now known to be highly organic) that had the appearance of have been deposited within modern time. She wanted to know more. So a PhD student was recruited (a.k.a. Macarena Cárdenas) to work with the sediments at the Palaeoenvironmental Change Research Group at the Open University under the supervision of Dr William Gosling… And so the study began.

After several years spent dating the sediments, analyzing their composition (physical and elemental) and the fossils (pollen and wood) contained within them preliminary insights into vegetation change on the eastern Andean flank during the middle Pleistocene (c. 200,000-300,000 years ago) were revealed and published (Cárdenas et al., 2011a; Cárdenas et al., 2011b). Further work covering stratigraphically lower sediments (older than those previously published; c. 500,000 year) and more detailed sedimentary and fossil analysis of the entire sequence completed a PhD thesis (Cárdenas, 2011).

I am now pleased to announce that the extended work included in my PhD thesis has now been published in a new article in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology (Cárdenas et al., online). The new paper is an extended version from previous publications from the same research and provides further evidence of the unique insights that can be gained from palaeoenvironmental studies in this region. These are some of the oldest Quaternary sediments ever discovered and studied from the mid-elevation eastern Andean flank / western Amazon and upon their analyses we were able to get for the first time an insight of how human-untouched Amazonian forests were back in time (up to 500,000 years ago!), how was their diversity and how they responded to intense volcanic activity and climatic change.

By Dr Macarena L. Cárdenas

REFERENCES

Cárdenas, M.L. (2011) The response of western Amazonian vegetation to fire and climate change: A palaeoecological study. In: Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, p. 242. The Open University, Milton Keynes

Cárdenas, M.L., Gosling, W.D., Pennington, R.T., Poole, I., Sherlock, S.C. & Mothes, P. (online) Forests of the tropical eastern andean flank during the middle pleistocene. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. DOI: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2013.10.009

Cárdenas, M.L., Gosling, W.D., Sherlock, S.C., Poole, I., Pennington, R.T. & Mothes, P. (2011a) The response of vegetation on the Andean flank in western Amazonia to Pleistocene climate change. Science, 331, 1055-1058. DOI: 10.1126/science.1197947

Cárdenas, M.L., Gosling, W.D., Sherlock, S.C., Poole, I., Pennington, R.T. & Mothes, P. (2011b) Response to comment on “the response of vegetation on the Andean flank in western Amazonia to Pleistocene climate change”. Science, 333, 1825. DOI: 10.1126/science.1207888

 

Ecosystem service provision sets the pace for pre-Hispanic societal development in the central Andes

July 31, 2013
WDG

Water resources in the Vacas region (near Cochabamba, Bolivia) deminished around the time of the founding of the urban centre at Tiawanaku

Water resources in the Vacas region (near Cochabamba, Bolivia) deminished around the time of the founding of the urban centre at Tiawanaku

Gosling, W.D. & Williams, J.J. (2013) Ecosystem service provision sets the pace for pre-Hispanic societal development in the central Andes. The Holocene, 23(11): 1617-1622. doi: 10.1177/0959683613496296

Click here to download an open access version of this manuscript via The Open University Open Reseach Online repository.

Funded PhD studentship: Tropical vegetation, environment and climate

March 21, 2013
WDG

William Gosling

William Gosling pollen trapping in west Africa. A studentship on the new grant will investigate modern pollen-vegeation relationships

Fully funded NERC PhD studentship tied to 500,000 years of solar irradiance, climate and vegetation changes project.
To start October 2013 now avaliable with the Palaeoenvironmental Change Research Group.

Title: Tropical vegetation, environment and climate: The present is the key to the past

Supervisors:
William D. Gosling (The Open University),
Wesley Fraser (Oxford Brookes University),
Barry Lomax (University of Nottingham),
Mark Sephton (Imperial College London) &
Yadvinder Malhi (University of Oxford)

  • Investigate the dynamics of modern tropical forest and savannah ecosystems
  • Training in micro fossil and organic geochemical analysis
  • Develop a comprehensive understanding of modern pollen-vegetation relationships
  • Field work in Ghana, in conjunction with Forestry Research Institute of Ghana
Making pollen traps on field work in Ghana

Making pollen traps on field work in Ghana

Understanding how vegetation responded to past climate change requires the development of well constrained relationships between living floras, environment and climate. This project will help constrain the great uncertainty which exists as to how tropical ecosystems are represented in the fossil record by examining the relationship between modern vegetation and the pollen it produces. The project will analyse modern pollen rain using a combination of traditional microscopic analysis [1] and cutting edge geochemical techniques [2]. We anticipate that the findings will provide new insight into past vegetation and climatic change.

For further information on the project and how to apply see the full advert: NERC PhD advert. Prior to applying please check eligibility for NERC funding by clicking here.

Closing date: 25th April, interviews will be held at The Open University during May.

To find out more about the department, research environment and student life at The Open Univerity visit the Department of Environment, Earth & Ecosystems, the Centre for Earth, Planetry, Space & Astronomical Research (CEPSAR) and OU RocSoc web pages.

Work as part of a larger research team in the UK and abroad.

Work as part of a larger research team in the UK and abroad.

References:

[1] Gosling, W.D., et al., Differentiation between Neotropical rainforest, dry forest, and savannah ecosystems by their modern pollen spectra and implications for the fossil pollen record. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology, 2009. 153(1-2): p. 70-85.
[2] Lomax, B.H., et al., Plant spore walls as a record of long-term changes in Ultraviolet-B radiation. Nature Geoscience, 2008. 1(9): p. 592-596.

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