The second in my series highlighting papers in the recent volume of Palaeoecology of Africa (published entirely open access online) focuses on the research articles. The research articles make up the ‘guts’ of the volume, comprising 10 of the 24 papers. Three of these are from western Africa (Dinies et al.; Gosling et al.; Lemonnier & Lézine), two from eastern Africa (Githumbi et al.; Kinyanjui et al.), two from central Africa (Richards; Gaillard et al.), and three from southern Africa (Chevalier et al.; Hill & Finch, Hill et al.). These research articles present new data and key insights into past environmental change in Africa, which fall into two broad categories, providing information on: (i) how we can extract information from pollen data sets, and (ii) the processes operating to drive vegetation.
The recently published volume of the Palaeoecology of Africa series contains a number of different types of papers: research articles, reviews, perspectives and data papers. One of the key reasons I was motivated to become involved in the project was to help mobilise palaeoecological data from Africa towards open access datasets (African Pollen Database, Neotoma). To hopefully get greater recognition to the great work done over the years and to help facilitate synthetic work that will provide a greater understanding of spatial variance in past climate change. Ultimately, four short data papers were included in the volume: an enhanced c. 16,000 year pollen record from the Bale Mountains in Ethiopia (Gil-Romera et al. 2021), two pollen and charcoal record from the southern Cape Coast in South Africa, c. 3200 and 650 years long respectively (du Plessis et al. 2021a; du Plessis et al. 2021b), and a c. 700 year long record from Madagascar (Razanatsoa et al. 2021). The records provide new insights in to landscape scale environmental change driven by both humans and climate. To find out more check out the open access articles and the data at:
The transition from Early Career Researcher (ECR) to head of a new laboratory
When you are in the midst of working on your PhD you feel that this must surely be the toughest challenge you’ll ever face, only to emerge on the other side and realise that it was a holiday in comparison to the academic journey post-PhD.
I completed my PhD at the University of Cape Town (South Africa) and immediately launched myself into a postdoctoral fellowship embedded in a relatively large international research initiative. Building on the expertise and knowledge I gained from my postgraduate work, I generated new pollen and microcharcoal records from the southern Cape and west coast regions of South Africa in order to reveal details about how climate and associated environmental conditions have changed during the Holocene. I found the transition from working almost entirely independently on my PhD to collaborating within the context of a large multidisciplinary and multinational team equally very exciting, and very challenging. At this time imposter syndrome hit me hard and I had a bit of an existential crisis (I’m overqualified, too specialized and not earning enough, what the hell am I doing with my life? – I know we’ve all been there!). Just as I was about to give up on academia, I was approached by Nelson Mandela University, one of the smaller, lesser known, public universities in South Africa, situated in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape Province. After a lot of soul searching, I accepted a research fellowship at NMU, moved out of my home in Cape Town (where I had lived my entire life) and relocated to a new city – by myself, with no contacts, friends or family there.