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.
“TERRA NOVA is a new Research Fellowship Programme funded by the European Commission that learns from landscapes with past energy regimes to design new landscapes in the low carbon society. Are you interested in TERRA NOVA and you feel qualified to apply, take a look at one of the 15 positions that are available, and apply before – April 15th 2019.”
I am pleased to announce the opening up of a new DPhil position at the University of Oxford Department of Earth Sciences that I will be involved with. The main supervisor for the project is Prof. Tamsin Mather and the position is part of her recently funded European Research Council project. The project is entitled “Sniffing out global volcanic fingerprints using mercury in Quaternary sedimentary records”.
For full details of the project click here and how to apply click here.
The successful candidate will be primarily responsible for developing tests for evaluating the effect of humans through space and time on species range sizes and developing analyses to compare diversity patterns and range sizes from different data sources in mountainous regions, interpretation of pollen-stratigraphical data for reconstructing range size through time, and applying mapping techniques to assess the patterns over time and space.
Special requirements for the position:
The successful candidate must have knowledge and experience of quantitative analyses of ecological or palaeoecological data (preferably using the statistical software R), as well as documented skills in one or more research fields relevant to the position.
Experience with large databases and some experience with geospatial analysis software, such as in ESRI ArcGIS, QGIS or R is an advantage.
It would be beneficial to have a background in one or more of the following research fields: biogeography, macroecology, palaeoecology, mountain biodiversity, community ecology, applied statistics, numerical ecology.
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
Supervsiory team:Dr. Sandra Nogué, Prof Mary Edwards, Prof. David Sear, Dr. William Gosling (University of Amsterdam), Prof. Inger (Tromso University), Prof. Janet Wilmshurst (Landcare research and University of Auckland)
Rationale: The Pacific islands of Polynesia were among the last places on earth to be colonised by humans. The precise dates of colonisation are debated – a situation which arises from the different sources of evidence (1, 2). New lake sediment records from the Cook Islands (Atiu, Mangaia) and Samoa (Upolu) and Tonga show very clear evidence of disturbance, but what is unclear is to what extent the signal represents the arrival of humans or a change in climate (2). A key question for the analysis of sedimentary records is the ability to distinguish natural variability in the environment of Pacific Islands from that arising from the arrival of humans in a temporal and spatial context. We aim to use a multi-proxy approach based on SedDNA, lipid biomarkers, fossil charcoal, and pollen preserved in lake sediments to identify: a) the presence of humans and/or livestock that were brought with them, and b) the related environmental change. Multiproxy approaches supported by statistical analysis, will be deployed to four sites where we already have good chronological controls and high resolution records of palaeoclimate. We are well placed to apply new methods and higher resolution analyses to address fundamental questions about the response of remote pacific islands to climate and human forcings.
Supervisory team: Prof. David Sear, Prof. Justin Sheffield, Prof Ian Croudace (National Oceanographic Centre, Southampton).
Rationale: Because of their small size and isolation, islands in the Pacific have limited and fragile natural resources, making them more vulnerable to climate hazards and stresses than are continents1. Pacific Island Nations (PINS) also occupy the region of the earth’s surface most immediately impacted by ENSO events. The impacts of El Nino events are felt across 3,975 islands, 13 island nations, affecting a population of 12.9 million who rely on rainfall for freshwater and food security. To date our understanding of the mechanisms of drought, their frequency and duration, and their biophysical effects in PINs remain poorly quantified. In addition island types experience droughts differently, varying according to their location, topography, geological history and ecology. Droughts are also thought to have been important drivers of the human colonization of the Pacific2. Drought frequency is likely to increase in the tropical pacific but again its specific impacts are largely unknown. This PhD seeks to develop a step change in our understanding of droughts based on novel coupling of long term data on drought frequency with process based drought modelling.