From new methods to new insights: Advancing palaeoecology with @PalaeoNick

September 21, 2022
WDG

During the delivery of this years BSc Palaeoeclogy course at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) I discussed with a number of students about the nature and purpose of understanding the ecology of the past. This lead me to highlighting the research of Nick Loughlin (@PalaeoNick) from his PhD at The Open University and the subsequent work that he has done. I though it might be interesting to also share this here…

Nick recovers a sediment core for his PhD project.
Nick Loughlin during his PhD field work in Ecuador

Nick’s study sought to understand better the ecological history of the biodiverse eastern Andean flank in Ecuador. To achieve this he went into the field and recovered sediments from a lake and a sedimentary section exposed by a road cutting. He analysed the sediments to reveal vegetation change (pollen analysis), fire histories (charcoal analysis), and past animals in the landscape (non-pollen palynomorphs, or NPPs). To extract extra ecological information from his samples he developed the methodological approach for examining NPPs in a tropical setting (Loughlin et al. 2018a). He then combined all the different palaeoecological approaches to reveal the drivers of vegetation change during the last glacial period (in the absence of humans; Loughlin et al. 2018b), and during the last 1000 years (when indigenous and European human populations radically altered the landscape; Loughlin et al. 2018c). The insights gained from Nicks research provided empirical evidence of how humans have been modifying this biodiversity hotspot on the timescales relevant to the lifecycles of tropical trees. These findings and ideas were collated in his PhD Thesis at The Open University which was supervised by Encarni Montoya, Angela Coe and myself (Loughlin, 2018a). Subsequently, Nick has been working to broaden the impact of his work and to communicate his findings to the broader scientific and conservation community. This has lead to two new publications focused on understanding baseline ecological function and conservation implications (Loughlin et al. 2022, Nogué et al. 2022).

Lake Huila
Evidence of past ecological change recovered from Lake Huila (Ecuador) revealed how past peoples had modified the landscape of the eastern Andean biodiversity hotspot.

The arch of research carried out by Nick, I think, really demonstrates the important of understanding the ecology of the past – without his detailed investigation of microfossils we could not have seen the impacts of indigenous communities on the past Andean landscape, or identify the consequences of the European depopulation; or been able to estimate the timescales of the ecological change!

References

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Palaeoecology course 2022 goes archaeology…

September 16, 2022
WDG

As part of this years BSc Palaeoecology course at the University of Amsterdam we visited the Department of Archaeology. Organised by Anja Fischer we visited the human bone collection, the animal bone collection and the archaeobotany section. Amazing collections and lots of opportunities for cross faculty projects and teaching.

In addition to explaining the physical reference collections Anja also explained how she has been developing data mining techniques to allow information to be synthesised from the thousands of archaeological reports across the Netherlands.

She used this approach to make new discoveries about the role of urban farming and ruralisation in Dutch history. Her findings formed a report for the Dutch national heritage organisation (Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed) which can be downloaded for free (in English).

Fischer, A., van Londen, H., Blonk, A., Visser, R.M. & Renes, J. (2021) Urban Farming and Ruralisation in The Netherlands (1250-1850): Unravelling farming practice and the use of (open) space by synthesising archaeological reports using text mining. Nederlandse Archeologische Rapporten 68. Download free here.

Palaeoecology course UvA 2022

September 15, 2022
WDG

The University of Amsterdam (UvA) palaeoecology course is underway. The course is part of the BSc Biology program and the “Earth & Ecology” minor of the BSc Future Planet Studies.

Week 1 (last week) we got everyone up to speed with the fundamentals of palaeoecology (including: key principles, depositional environments, dating methods) and laboratory skills (pollen, phytolith and macrofossil identification). This week (week 2) we are out and about (coring sediments, surveying vegetation and visiting the archaeology department). By the end of the week the students will (should!?) have generated sufficient data in the laboratory and field to be able to identify the location from which their mini-project “mystery slides” were taken. Next week (week 3) will be number crunching to generate the statistical support for their ideas and inferences.

Students collecting sediments using a Russian corer at Langenboom (September, 2022). These samples were recovered in collaboration with the BosGroep Zuid Nederland as part of an ongoing project to gain new insights into the nature of the past landscape in the Netherlands and aid conservation efforts.

Characterising Dutch forests, wetlands and cultivated lands on the basis of phytolith assemblages

September 13, 2022
WDG

Open access:

de Wolf, I.K., McMichael, C.N.H., Philip, A.L. & Gosling, W.D. (2022) Characterising Dutch forests, wetlands and cultivated lands on the basis of phytolith assemblages. Netherlands Journal of Geosciences 101, e17. DOI: 10.1017/njg.2022.14

This paper started off as a research thesis undertaken by Iris de Wolf at the University of Amsterdam as part of her BSc Biology degree in 2018. The project was supervised by Crystal McMichael and William Gosling and has subsequently been further developed. If you are student or researcher interested in undertaking a similar type of projects please get in touch.

Listen to Iris’s journal podcast speaking about the subject here.

MSc Earth Sciences: Peru field course 2022

July 15, 2022
WDG

The University of Amsterdam MSc Earth Sciences “Geoecological Systems” field course to Peru took place this year during June and July (2022). A team of 18 students and 4 staff spent four weeks in Miraflores Town (c. 3700 m above sea level) working with, and for, local communities to study geomorphology, geology, land-use, water quality and carbon storage. The students were organized into teams of 3 or 4 each of which tackled a research question in the nearby landscapes that had been developed in conjunction with the local community. Access to the area and embedding within the community was enabled by The Mountain Institute Peru. The student reports will be translated into Spanish who will communicate findings to the community in Miraflores Town.

Want to join us on a future expedition? Check out our degree program here to enroll.

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Palynologishe Kring: Seminar day (May 2022)

June 15, 2022
WDG

On the 19 May the Palynologische Kring (Dutch palynological society) held a hybrid seminar meeting under the theme “Dutch palynologists then and now”.

The meeting was opened by Prof. dr. Henry Hooghiemstra (University of Amsterdam) who focused on the “then” and presented a biopic of pioneering Dutch palynologist Frans Florschütz. Florschütz became one of the major figures in establishing palynology within the Netherlands during the 1900s. Originally, he studied political economy and law, but went on to become the Secretary to the Board of Governors of the Agricultural School in Wageningen. From his position in Wageningen Florschütz had a base to develop his interests in palynology and past environmental change. He started work on the seminar work “Nederland in Ijstijd” (The Netherlands in the Ice Age) in 1939 and it was published in 1950. During his career Florschütz also held positions at Utrecht University (obtaining his doctorate), University of Leiden (endowed chair, until 1958) and University of Nijmegen (post retirement). Click here for further information on Frans Florschütz visit.

The second part of the meeting focused on the “now” with presentations form three Dutch researchers engaged in research abroad. First up with Eric de Boer (Universidad de Granada, Spain), then Thya van den Berg (University of Hull, UK), and finally Henk Cornelissen (University of Manchester, UK). Eric presented new data on the human and climate impacts on the Iberian Peninsula. Thya presented her work in two parts focused on the new datasets on past environmental change from Yorkshire (UK) and then the development of modelling approached to estimate landscape cover on the basis of pollen datasets. Henk took us to the high atlas of Morocco and showed how pollen and chemical data can be integrated to reveal past human presence and impacts.

The next scheduled event will be in the annual excursion which this year will be to Leiden. For further details and to find out more about the Palynologische Kring visit the web pages here.

Job: Tenure-Track Assistant Professor in Evolutionary Ecology in Rapidly Changing Environments

May 16, 2022
WDG

The Institute for Biodiversity & Ecosystem Dynamics is looking for a ambitious academic with expertise in evolutionary ecology to join the Department of Evolutionary & Population Biology.

Closing date: 20 May 2022

Further details and how to apply

A stronger role for long-term moisture change than for CO2 in determining tropical woody vegetation change

May 5, 2022
WDG

Gosling, W.D., Miller, C.S., Shanahan, T.M., Holden, P.B., Overpeck, J.T. & van Langevelde, F. (2022) A stronger role for long-term moisture change than for CO2 in determining tropical woody vegetation change. Science 376, 653-656. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abg4618

To access this article FREE through the Science author referral service click here.

For more on the palaeoecological dataset underpinning this research check out the PhD thesis of Charlotte Miller by clicking here or here.

Scholars at Risk

March 4, 2022
WDG

I wanted to share the details of Scholars at Risk Network with people today. This is an organisation that the University of Amsterdam is working with to provide support to scholars around the world who find themselves in difficult situations. The university is currently working with Scholars at Risk to see if there are additional possibilities to support people effected by the current crisis in Ukraine.

University of Amsterdam – Ukraine information page

Scholars at Risk Network – Home page

Tenured Assistant Professorship: Climate-vegetation dynamics

December 23, 2021
WDG

We are seeking to recruit an experienced educator and researcher in the field of climate dynamics, linked to Earth system functioning and/or land-surface processes. The position will be tenured, subject to a positive evaluation of your performance during the initial 12-month temporary appointment.

Deadline: 31 January 2022

Find out more and apply:

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