On Tuesday 16 May 2023 a small team of researchers from the Institute for Biodiversity & Ecosystem Dynamics (University of Amsterdam) visited the Maashorst (Netherlands) to visited an area “re-wilded” with European Bison (Bison bonasus). In addition to the bison the area is also now home to Tauros and Exmoor Ponies The purpose of the trip was to collect soil surface samples to examine for dung fungal spores. Certain fungi grow only on the dung of herbivores and the spores of these fungi can be preserved in the sedimentary record (for more information see Lee et al., 2022). Analysis of dung fungal spore diversity through the sedimentary record can therefore provide insights into the changes in the amount of dung (animals) in the landscape in the past. The purpose of this sampling effort was to see if we can quantify how many, and what type, of spores are representative of this group of bison. This information will help us to be able to interpret ancient records of fungal spores in more detail.
At the University of Amsterdam the MSc Earth Science is split into two tracks, one of these is entitled: “Earth System Science”. Earth System Science is a research intensive track focused on understanding the fundamentals of abiotic and biotic interactions across the globe and through time. During this degree you will spend around 6 months studying to pick up specialist knowledge and skills, and around 18 months actively developing yourself – in your key areas of interest – through project work.
The taught part of the Earth System Science track includes courses such as:
The Earth System: Learn how to analyse Earth system function across space and through time.
Analysis & Modelling Lab: Develop skills in data handeling, analysis and modeling relevant to Earth science.
Biogeochemical Cycles in the Earth System: Study how the dynamics of carbon and nitrogen link to societal challenges.
Climate Change: Explore the scientific basis for climate change an its implications for the environment and society.
Environments Through Time: Consider and analyse environmental change on timescale relevant to landscapes, societies and climates.
GIS and Remote Sensing in Ecosystem Dynamics: Learn how to use large remotely sensed datasets to gain insights into geological, geomorphological and soil systems.
In addition, free elective courses are possible from across the University of Amsterdam, or at other approved organizations or universities, i.e. it is possible to pick up skills in other specialisms (for example in languages, AI, or programming), or study a course at a university abroad, and have this included within your University of Amsterdam MSc Earth Science degree.
The project part of the Earth System Science track includes two research projects, or one research project and one internship with an external organization (such as a company or NGO). MSc research projects are often closely linked to active research within the Institute for Biodiversity & Ecosystem Dynamics. Some projects and literature reviews conducted by our MSc researchers reach a high enough level to be published in international scientific journals, either on there own or as part of a wider collaboration. Examples of recent papers including MSc researchers (highlighted in bold) are:
Lee, C.M., van Geel, B. & Gosling, W.D. (2022) On the use of spores of coprophilous fungi preserved in sediments to indicate past herbivore presence. Quaternary5, 30. DOI: 10.3390/quat5030030
de Nijs, E.A. & Cammeraat, E.L. (2020) The stability and fate of Soil Organic Carbon during the transport phase of soil erosion. Earth-Science Reviews 201, 103067. DOI: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2019.103067
In spite of the challenges and uncertainties that the larger scientific community is currently facing, I am delighted and humbled to accept one of the British Ecological Society’s Ecologist in Africa research grant for 2020. The grant will support my historical ecology project whose main goal is to apply palaeoecological and archaeological proxies to investigate the extent of anthropogenic impacts on vegetation structure and composition of one of the Kenyan Central highlands before, during, and after the colonial period.
The Aberdare range forest provide an ideal setting for this study because they have been farmed by local populations since long before colonialism, and they were heavily impacted during colonial times because of their fertile soils. This pilot project aims to reveal the land-use and land-cover dynamics of the Aberdare range forest, and it is hoped that eventually similar studies will be undertaken in other parts of the Kenyan highland forests.
Online, open access:
McMichael, C., Piperno, D., Neves, E., Bush, M., Almeida, F. & Mongelo, G. (2015) Phytolith assemblages along a gradient of ancient human disturbance in western Amazonia. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 3.DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2015.00141