Prof. dr. Willem Renema Special Chair in Marine Palaeobiodiversity
Willem Renema, head of the Marine Biodiversity research group at Naturalis, has been appointed as a Special Chair in Marine Palaeobiodiversity within the Department of Ecosystem & Landscape Dynamics at the University of Amsterdam. I am delighted that Willem has joined the team coupling his expertise in marine tropical systems with our existing focus on terrestrial tropical settings will, I am sure, provide many new avenues of scientific endeavour. Catalysing collaboration between Naturalis and UvA will be five PhD researchers, employed on the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network, who will be jointly supervised by Naturalis and UvA staff.
To find out more about Willem and his appointment click here.
This project will increase our understanding of how past disturbances have influenced the biodiversity and structure of Amazonian rainforests. The coming years, we will work on reconstructing past fire and vegetation history of forest plots in Amazonia, and how that history relates to modern biomass and modern carbon dynamics. ALPHA is important for forest conservation, because results can be used to prioritize land for conservation. ALPHA results will also give an estimation of the Amazonian rainforests’ ability to sequester carbon, which is important for global carbon models. dr. C.N.H. McMichael received an ERC grant to research ALPHA in Amazonia together with 2 PhD students, 1 post-doc, 2 technicians and a senior-staff. At the beginning of March, the positions were filled, and our team was complete. But then COVID-19 happened… and our team was spread over continents!
To keep ALPHA going, we started with weekly virtual lab meetings. Because these fruitful discussions are online, other researchers soon joined from the US, UK and Jamaica. It is not your average “vrijmibo”, but very fun and a nice way to stay connected! One of the papers we have discussed is the “Asynchronous carbon sink saturation in African and Amazonian tropical forests” from Hubau et al (2020).
In 2015, Brienen et al. published an article about the growth and mortality of trees in Amazonian rainforests for the period of 1985 to 2015. Their results showed a decline of the carbon sink in Amazonian forests.
Now, Hubau et al. (2020) added results from African forest plots and compared the net carbon sink of the African and Amazonian forests. Instead of a long-term decline, African forests showed a stable carbon sink. The difference in their carbon sink was because more trees died in Amazonia, but not in African forests. But since 2010, a decline is also visible in the carbon sink of African forests. This suggests that the two forests have a different ‘saturation’ point in the carbon they can storage.
A statistical model with CO2, temperature, drought and forest dynamics was created to predict the carbon changes of the forests over time. This model predicts that the carbon sink of African forests will show a gradual decline and the carbon sink of Amazonian forests will decline fast.
Overall, this paper highlights that our rainforests may not be the carbon sink we had thirty years ago. We will need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sooner, if we want to limit global warming. Also, this paper showed how important forest dynamics are to accurately model and predict the carbon storage of Amazonia. Hopefully, the ALPHA research project will make a contribution to this!
The next two days were spent in motorized dugouts sitting on our gear bags, with tarps pulled over us. Every now and then the driving rain would relent and we would see macaws and toucans flying across the Aguarico River. We stayed one night in a village that had been abandoned due to recent floods, another with Siona hunters who were preparing their blow darts (for monkeys). There were very few houses along the river and we hardly saw another boat in three days. Then we arrived, well almost. We had turned off the main channel onto the tiny Zancudo river. Little used, this stream was a jumble of fallen trees that the Siona chopped their way through. A large tree just beneath the surface posed a problem that was solved by stripping the bark from Cecropiatrees and laying it inside surface facing up, backing up, revving the engine, and aiming straight for the bark. The slick insides of the Cecropiaallowed the canoes to shoot the trunk and on we went. Then we reached the marsh. When I say ‘marsh’ it was a forest of Montricardia arborescens. This is an aquatic Aroid that grows about 3 m high. The trunks are about 3-5 cm in diameter and is THE favored hangout for caiman and anaconda (I have since learned). No Siona in their right mind gets out of a boat in such a marsh and so we were stuck……so close but yet so far. Our only chance of getting through the marsh was to hop out of the boats and pull them through.
The author pulling a canoe through the marsh at Zancudococha in 1988. Photo: Miriam Steinitz-Kannan.
We had two boats and so the most dispensable members of the team, Paulo de Oliveira and I, were given the job of hauling the boats. A couple of happy hours later we were through the marsh and onto the lake.
Our first jobs were to find somewhere dry enough to camp, unload, set up camp, and survey the lake. Paul Colinvaux the team leader always launched an inflatable and surveyed the lake on first arrival. Meanwhile the rest of us set up camp. About 20 minutes into all this activity there was the unmistakable crack of a shotgun. In a few more minutes the Chief’s sons emerged from the forest with the news that they had shot a large tapir. The tapir fed the group for the next few days, but I ate tuna and a sausage that had turned blue and slimy, unable to reconcile my role in, what to me, was an unfortunate outcome of our petitioning the Siona to bring us to their sacred lake. The coring was more successful than at Cuyabeno in that we recovered 5m of sediment, but it was clearly a young system and wouldn’t answer our research question. This expedition was a disappointment scientifically, but an incredible snapshot along the gradient of Amazonian development.
View from our campsite of an island in Lake Zancudococha (1988). Photo: M. Bush.
The 1988 camp at Zanucudococha was a place of field biology. Chemist Mike Miller worked late into the night on limnology, while field microscopes were used to get an early glimpse of plankton and diatoms. From left to right: Melanie Riedinger-Whitmore, Eduardo Asanza, Haki, Paulo de Oliveira and Paul Colinvaux. Photo: M. Bush.
I recently joined the editorial board of Plant Ecology & Diversity at the invitation of editor-in-chief Laszlo Nagy (University of Campinas, Brazil). The journal focuses on ecological and evolutionary issues within plant biology with broad themes covering biodiversity, conservation and global change. Furthermore, I think this is a particularly interesting journal to be involved with because of its option for double-blind peer reviews, commitment to providing a platform for ‘negative results’ and ‘repeat experiments’, and its open access Grubb Review series (Nagy & Resco de Dios, 2016); which already includes many significant articles, including: Ashton (2017), Barbeta & Peñuelas (2016), Grubb (2016), Körner (2018), Valladares et al. (2016), and Wilkinson & Sherratt (2016). In addition to the invited Grubb Reviews the journal publishes: research articles, short communications, reviews, and scientific correspondence. My role on the editorial board will be to cover submissions related to tropical palaeoecology and biogeography. So please consider submitting to Plant Ecology & Diversity if you have some exciting new research or ideas that you think would be appropriate.
15:00 Predator avoidance and prey tracking in a Neotropical forest (Constant Swinkels, Wageningen University & Research)
15:20 The role of fig volatiles in pollinator specificity and fig diversity (Aafke Oldenbeuving, Naturalis Biodiversity Center)
15:40 Mangrove Atlantis: Can mangroves keep up with extreme land-subsidence? (Celine van Bijsterveldt, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research)
16:10 The fate of forests in agro-forest frontier landscapes, implications for conservation (Madelon Lohbeck, Wageningen University & Research)
16:30 Trends in the variability of Specific Leaf Area of paramo vegetation during succession (Marian Cabrera, University of Amsterdam)
16:50 Succession dynamics of tree and soil fungal communities in regenerating tropical rainforests are strongly influenced by regional species pool and abiotic factors (Irene Adamo, Naturalis Biodiversity Center)
Veerle and I trying to protect ourselves from the mosquitos.
My name is Britte Heijink and I’m doing my MSc Biological Science thesis research project with Crystal McMichael and William Gosling. I travelled with Veerle Vink and Crystal to the Colombian part of Amazonia to collect samples for my project. At Amacayacu National Park, we collected soil cores from different locations in the plot. Now that we’re back in Amsterdam, I’m analysing the soils to reconstruct the fire and vegetation history from the plot using charcoal and phytoliths. I am specifically looking to see if humans have been present in the system and how they potentially affected the vegetation at Amacayacu.
Here I’m Sampling pieces of soil cored by Louisa and checking for large pieces of charcoal
I’ve completed my bachelor thesis for Bèta-Gamma (Liberal Arts and Sciences) under the supervision of Crystal and Will here at the UvA. I’m really excited to work with them again, and already looking forward to our meetings at the Oerknal 😉 I will be finished by the end of September, and then possibly return for a literature study.
One of the most wonderful experiences in my academic career so far has been the fieldwork to Panama and Colombia with Crystal, Veerle, and Nina. It was a lot of hard work, and 90% of our time was spent covered in mud, sweat, and insect repellant, but the experience of working in a tropical rainforest was completely worth it! Veerle and I will write another blog about our fieldwork soon. Come see us in the microscope lab if you want to hear our dangerous and amazing stories before that!
Our last day in the Amazon was spend with some of the local students, Louisa Fernando Gomez Correa and Mariana Gutierrez Munera.
Kissling, W.D., Blach-Overgaard, A., Zwaan, R.E. & Wagner, P. (2016) Historical colonization and dispersal limitation supplement climate and topography in shaping species richness of African lizards (Reptilia: Agaminae). Scientific Reports 6, 34014. DOI: 10.1038/srep34014
Lutz, H.L., Weckstein, J.D., Patane, J.S.L., Bates, J.M. & Aleixo, A. (2013) Biogeography and spatio-temporal diversification of Selenidera and Andigena Toucans (Aves: Ramphastidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 69, 873-883. DOI: 10.1016/j.ympev.2013.06.017
Malhi Y. , Gardner T.A., Goldsmith G.R., Silman M.R., Zelazowski P. (2014) Tropical forests in the Anthropocene. Annual Review of Environment and Resources39, 125-159. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-environ-030713-155141
Morueta-Holme, N., Engemann, K., Sandoval-Acuña, P., Jonas, J.D., Segnitz, R.M. & Svenning, J. (2015) Strong upslope shifts in Chimborazo’s vegetation over two centuries since Humboldt. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112, 12741-12745. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1509938112