In search for the historical roots of grasses

August 11, 2020

In search for the historical roots of grasses: A review of Neogene grass history in the Amazon drainage basin

Corresponding article: Kirschner, J. A., & Hoorn, C. (2019). The onset of grasses in the Amazon drainage basin, evidence from the fossil record. Frontiers of Biogeography. DOI: 10.21425/F5FBG44827

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The onset of grasses in the Amazon drainage basin, evidence from the fossil record

March 23, 2020

Kirschner, J.* & Hoorn, C. (2019) The onset of grasses in the Amazon drainage basin, evidence from the fossil record Frontiers of Biogeography DOI:10.21425/F5FBG44827

*Judith conducted this work as part of her MSc Earth Sciences: Geo-ecological Dynamics degree at the Institute for Biodiversity & Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam.

The modern pollen-vegetation relationships of a tropical forest-savannah mosaic landscape, Ghana, West Africa

August 22, 2017

Julier, A.C.M., Jardine, P.E., Adu-Bredu, S., Coe, A.L., Duah-Gyamfi, A., Fraser, W.T., Lomax, B.H., Malhi, Y., Moore, S., Owusu-Afriyie, K. & Gosling, W.D. (2017) The modern pollen-vegetation relationships of a tropical forest-savannah mosaic landscape, Ghana, West Africa. Palynology online. DOI: 10.1080/01916122.2017.1356392

Published open access:

Julier, A.C.M., Jardine, P.E., Coe, A.L., Gosling, W.D., Lomax, B.H. & Fraser, W.T. (2016) Chemotaxonomy as a tool for interpreting the cryptic diversity of Poaceae pollen. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 235, 140-147. DOI: 10.1016/j.revpalbo.2016.08.004

Gosling PhD thesis 2004

April 10, 2014

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.

Supervisors: Dr. Francis Mayle (University of Leicester, now at University of Reading) and Dr. Nicholas Tate (University of Leicester)

Examined by: Prof. Henry Lamb (University of Aberystwyth) and Prof. Andrew Millington (University of Leicester, now at Texas A & M), April 2004.

To borrow a copy from University of Leicester Library search for my name or thesis title here (item ID 7507349613), or download directly: Volume 1, Volume 2, and CD.

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Miller PhD thesis 2014

March 26, 2014

Miller, C.S. (2014) 520,000 years of environmental change in West Africa. PhD Thesis, Department of Environment, Earth & Ecosystems, The Open University.

Lottie 2014

CSM (2014)


Global temperatures are predicted to rise by 2–2.5°C by 2065, profoundly affecting the Earth’s environment. The response of ecosystems to past climate fluctuations can inform on how systems will respond in the future. This thesis focuses on Quaternary environmental changes in West Africa, a region important because of its high ecological value and role in the global carbon cycle.

In 2004, the International Continental Drilling Program recovered c. 291m of sediments spanning the last c. 1 Myr from Lake Bosumtwi (Ghana). Pollen, charcoal and nitrogen isotopes (d15N) were analysed from the most recent c. 150m (c. 520 kyr). The latitudinal position and long duration of this core makes it unique for understanding West African monsoon dynamics and vegetation change.

To aid characterisation of the Bosumtwi pollen succession, an atlas of present-day pollen was constructed for 364 pollen and spore taxa.

The pollen record from Bosumtwi reveals dynamic vegetation change over the last c. 520 kyr, characterized by eleven biome shifts between savannah and forest. Savannah vegetation is dominated by Poaceae (>55%) associated with Cyperaceae, Chenopodiaceae-Amaranthaceae and Caryophyllaceae. Forest vegetation is palynologically diverse, but broadly characterised by Moraceae, Celtis, Uapaca, Macaranga and Trema. Low d15N values correspond to forest expansion and these are driven by high lake levels. The timescale indicates that the six periods of forest expansion correspond to global interglacial periods. The record indicates that the wettest climate occurred during the Holocene, and the driest during Marine Isotope Stage 7.

The vegetation and d15N records show a strong response to glacial-interglacial variability between c. 520–320 kyr and 130–0 kyr. Between c. 320–130 kyr there is a weaker response to glacial-interglacial cycles probably related to high eccentricity during the peak of the 400-kyr component of eccentricity, with high eccentricity resulting in greater seasonality and ultimately drier conditions.

Supervisors: Dr. William Gosling, Dr. Angela Coe (both The Open University) and Dr. Tim Shanahan (University of Texas at Austin)

Examined by: Prof. Henry Lamb (University of Aberystwyth) and Dr. Pallavi Anand (The Open University).

To borrow a copy from The Open University Library click here.

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