At FAPESP’s highlights: The Jê Project

The Jê group: Farmers and sedentary 

This time, written by scientific journalist Marcos Pivetta, this article covers what has been discovered so far by the archaeological research within the project and gives a first glance of what has bee found from the palaeoecological research performed by Macarena L.  Cárdenas and Frank Mayle.



To read the whole article click here, available in Portuguese. Right hand click in the page to automatically translate in google.



About FAPESPSão Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP, Portuguese: Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo) is a public foundation located in São Paulo, Brazil, with the aim of providing grants, funds and programs to support research, education and innovation of private and public institutions and companies in the state of São Paulo.

The Big Reveal – Our Tropical Phytolith Reference Collection goes live!


I just thought I’d have a little brag, and celebrate the fact that I have produced a tropical phytolith reference collection here at the University of Reading in the TPR lab. The full collection (as it stands until the next PhD student comes to help build it!) contains 152 taxa, sampled from various Herbaria around the world. My thanks go to Prof Jose Iriarté at the University of Exeter for lending me some of his material, as well as Dave Harris at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh who let Dr John Carson sample their herbarium and live specimens. The spread of taxa includes all those denoted as diagnostically useful by Piperno’s 2006 book ‘Phytoliths’ (the bible of tropical phytolith studies) plus some extras which may turn out to be useful.


The online database of our phytolith reference collection is now available on our Palaeobank website: Feel free to take a browse!


Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to photograph any of the slides under the microscope yet, but here are some photos of the collection in its lovely new cabinet:

Phytolith ref coll cabinet

Phytolith reference collection cabinet, organised alphabetically by family name


Poaceae draw in phytolith ref coll cabinet

An array of Poaceae reference slides in the collection


All of this means of course that I can now begin working on my fossil phytolith samples, once I’ve finished pollen counting…


by Heather Plumpton 


Exhausting but exhilarating – BES Annual Meeting 2016

BES conference photo

The ACC conference centre in Liverpool lit up at night – a great venue with excellent vegan food choices


Last week I attended my first British Ecological Society Annual Meeting and I still don’t think I’m fully recovered. With around 1200 delegates, 12 sessions running in parallel at any one time, lunchtime workshops and socials every night, it was a pretty intense experience. But of course it was worth all of the exhaustion; I met a lot of new people (as well as catching up with a few old friends), listened to some really great presentations, participated in several workshops, and got to present some early results of my own PhD work.

Particular highlights for me were:

  1. The tropical ecology (climate and land-use change) session, including a fascinating presentation by Steven Sylvester who climbed into the high Andes to find pristine forest ecosystems, potentially untouched by humans. This was followed by another excellent presentation on patterns of fire in the Serengeti, and how James Probert is using remote sensing to track fire changes and identify drivers – the interaction between climate and humans look to be interesting here.
  2. Monday lunchtime workshop on ‘Making Brexit work for ecology and the environment’ run by the BES policy team. Some interesting perspectives on the risks and opportunities for conservation and ecology were highlighted; Brexit might allow for a weakening of current standards of habitat and species protections, but it could also be an opportunity to strengthen the protection of taxa that are particularly threatened in Britain, but not elsewhere in Europe. We have to try to see the positives!
  3. An interesting mix of talks in the theoretical, interdisciplinary & computational ecology session, including one by a fellow palaeoecologist – Jane Bunting. I particularly enjoyed her presentation on how palaeoecologists and neo-ecologists need to work more closely together. Perhaps a BES palaeo Special Interest Group should be started??

The whole conference was rounded off in style with the Gala Dinner and after-party, which included a live band performing with video from Planet Earth playing on a large screen in the background – a proper ecology party!

BES gala dinner twitter photo %40pierre_griet

Our table at the BES Gala Dinner, before the David Attenborough party started! Courtesy of @pierre_griet

For anyone who didn’t make it but is interested in what went on, check out #BES2016 on twitter – there was an incredible amount of tweeting going on! Overall, it was a great conference – exhausting but exhilarating – and I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone considering going next year.

by Heather Plumpton 


PhD Opportunity


Millennial-Scale History of Amazon Forest Dynamics


Lead Supervisor: Francis E. Mayle, University of Reading, Department of Geography & Environmental Science, SAGES


Co-supervisors: Stuart Black, Department of Archaeology, SAGES; Shovonal Roy, Department of Geography & Environmental Science, SAGES


Studies of a network of 1-hectare forest plots across Amazonia have revealed significant ecological changes (e.g. increasing biomass) over recent decades, but whether they reflect atmospheric change (e.g. fertilization from rising CO2 concentrations), or instead secondary succession following pre-Columbian (pre-AD1492) human disturbance, is controversial.  Furthermore, the likely impact of increasing drought over the 21st century, predicted by climate models, is also uncertain.  A palaeoecological approach can potentially reveal the impact of mid-Holocene drought (a potential analogue for future drought) as well as Pre-Columbian land use.  However, a major disadvantage with lake-based pollen analysis (the traditional palaeovegetation proxy) is that suitably old lakes are rare in Amazonia, and the spatial resolution of pollen records is generally far too coarse to enable meaningful comparison with ecological data from 1 ha plots.  The aim of this project is to circumvent this problem by using a novel suite of palaeoecological proxies from soil profiles to reconstruct the millennial-scale vegetation histories of individual 1 ha plots of different types of forest across ecotonal southern Amazonia.       

Nerc_PhDopportunity_Frank Mayle_2017

Forest-Savannah transition, Bolivia

Approach and Methods

Phytoliths (microscopic silica bodies) are diagnostic of different plant taxa and, crucially, unlike pollen, are well preserved in soils and reflect plants growing in situ, thus facilitating direct comparison between ecological and palaeoecological data from the same forest stand.  Stable carbon isotope analyses differentiate C4-dominated savanna/open ground vs C3 forest, while charcoal and geochemistry reveal fire history and soil properties, respectively.  Previous research shows that these soil pits likely span at least 6,000 yrs BP, and will thus enable the respective impacts of mid-Holocene drought and pre-Columbian land use to be explored.  Floristic and ecological data will be downloaded from the RAINFOR database.  Appropriate numerical and statistical analyses will be undertaken to reveal intra- and inter-site relationships between different ecological, geochemical and palaeoecological data.

Training opportunities:

Training will be provided in phytolith and charcoal analysis (Mayle), stable isotope and geochemical analyses (Black) and numerical/statistical techniques (Roy).  Although most soil samples have already been collected, there will be an opportunity for the student to undertake fieldwork in Amazonia and collect more material.

Student profile:

At least a 2.1 BSc degree in biology/geography/environmental science is required.  A strong background in numerical/statistical techniques is essential.  Knowledge of ecology, biogeography, Quaternary science, and microscopy would be advantageous.

 Apply by going to the following link:




My views on the International Palynology and Palaeobotany Congress XIV IPC X IOPC


Hosted at Salvador Bahia, Brazil, between the 23rd and 28th of October


This is the first time I go to this joined conference and I have to say I am glad I made it. It is definitely an important event to know what is happening in the palynology world, as well as to let other know what you are doing. There were far too many names that did not make it, but there were abundant number of presentations.

It all started on Sunday 23rd evening with the opening ceremony, where each member of the committee gave the welcome. The speeches were followed by the signing of the Brazilian and the Bahia anthems by a talented Brazilian lady accompanied by a local guitarist. This was then followed by a traditional capoeira musical group that played a large round of songs that felt far too long for the taste of most.  Capirinhas, local beer and typical Bahian food was waiting for us to wake us up again and start the networking.


Othon Palace Hotel, Venue of the Conference



View from the Conference Venue


The week was followed by a series of presentations from 8.30am until 6pm, with four parallel sessions. There were many interesting talks, but for me the sessions ’Long-term vegetation, climate, fire dynamics and human impact in tropical and subtropical ecosystems’, ‘Quaternary palynology and botany’ and ‘Pollen-based Holocene land-cover reconstructions for climate modelling’ were highlights as they gathered the new and novel work from Europe and Latin researchers. There was also a non-pollen palynomorphs (NPP) session lead by Dr Encarni Montolla which was interesting to attend as I realised how strong and close is the NPP community. Posters presentations were abundant and with great quality of research. I saw many presentations from renowned researchers in the palaeo field such as Simon Haberle, Thomas Giesecke, Hermann Behling, Marie-Pierre Ledru, Marie-Jose Gaillard and many others! It was interesting to look at the fossil record in very deep time with the presentations on palaeobotany. Presentations on “From Gondwana to the Tropics” with Felipe Hinojosa and “Asyncronic oldest record of Nothofagus leaves in Antarctica and Patagonia” with Marcelo Leppe were eye opening.


My two presentations, ‘Pre-Columbian human land use versus climate change: understanding Araucaria forest expansion during the Late Holocene in southern Brazil’ and ‘Characterisation of the modern pollen rain-vegetation relationship of Araucaria forest of southern Brazil by analysis of moss polsters’ received many positive comments. The second received special interest of many. This was more methodological research and therefore I was in expectation to see what the community thought as it was the first time I talked about it. People were very pleased to see such analysis of modern data, and many came to me with supportive comments and also with great information on the ecology of modern taxa, such Cyathea sp. I am pleased to have showed it.


I attended the conference most of the time but I also managed to have great conversations with my Chilean colleagues (of which there were many I didn’t see for the last 10 years!), as well as European researchers.


The closure ceremony was much more active than the opening, a short speech, followed by abundant food again, beer, and the best: live Brazilian music including samba and axe which many danced… including the European community!




Local soups at the closing ceremony cocktail



Closing ceremony live music and dancing


About the Bahia experience: the city has a long and rich history and culture, buildings in the historic centre are restored colonial architecture, painted in bright colours, many of them being Catholic churches. Everywhere I went I found live music including samba, capoeira, axe and pop. There were many events happening in the streets, it was difficult to stay still. The Bahian food is interesting; a lot of it is fried, and includes of course beans and sea food. What I love about eating in Brazil are the restaurants with food by kilo, these are buffet with abundant salads and all sorts of prepared hot dishes. In these Buffet al Kilo places you pay what you eat in weight! Although poverty is quite obvious everywhere, people are in high/positive spirits and in general very friendly. I could talk to anyone and they would be quite open for a chat and help (I got tons of help in the streets, including a lady that stayed with me until I took a bus back to my hotel!). By the way, temperature was high, around 34C, and it was during spring…


La Barra beach, 15 mins walk from the Conference venue



Buffet al kilo!


Colonial architecture at the Historic Centre, Bahia


Coconut water post-conference… So much talking makes you thirsty!!


Overall it was a great experience. I am glad I made it.

We will see if now what the Czech Republic has to offer in four years!


By Macarena

PS. All photos are unprocessed, all in original colours


Thanks to the Je Landscapes Project that funded my flights and to the University of Reading who gave me a grant to pay for accommodation and food.



Thoughts on the ECR QRA conference 2016

As many know, Mariah is visiting us for 6 months here at TPRG. She is currently doing her PhD in Brazil, and is co-supervised by Frank Mayle.

Mariah has done great contribution to our group and has participated of the discussions and conferences. Her last participation was on this year’s QRA Postgraduate Symposium, hold in September.

We asked her to give us her impression of the QRA conference and share the poster she presented. Here is what she said:

“It was an excellent opportunity to participate in the 21st QRA Postgraduate Symposium at University of Nottingham. I meet many Quaternary students, learned different tools and views from the past. It was a great way to learn and improve my own ideas.

The program included a tour at the British Geological Survey, great speakers such as Professor Colin Waters and Professor Melanie Leng, and also a training course with Steve Hutchinson. This was all followed by a great dinner and social events at night.

Looking forward to the next year event, in Royal Holloway, University of London!”

Click here the pdf to Mariah’s poster

2016-09-16 09.22.48

Mariah with her poster at the QRA conference


Delegates at the conference. Can you spot Mariah?

Mariah Francisquini

PhD Student
Centre for Nuclear Energy in Agriculture -CENA/USP

University of São Paulo

PhD opportunity

 Assessing the resilience of Brazil’s iconic Araucaria forest

to past and future climate change


Lead Supervisor: Francis E. Mayle, Dept. Geography & Environ. Science, Univ. Reading.


Staff profile 

Broader context of the project 

Co-supervisors: Richard Walters, School of Biological Sciences, Univ. Reading; Joy Singarayer, Dept. Meteorology, Univ. Reading; Macarena Cárdenas, Dept. Geography & Environ. Science, Univ. Reading.


Applications are invited for the post of Graduate Teaching Assistant. The appointed person will be registered for a Part-Time PhD, while holding a contract of employment from the University of Reading which encompasses both doctoral studies and teaching responsibilities with an associated salary. The post will commence on 19th September 2016, for a period of 4 years. Although six potential topics are being advertised, only one post will be appointed to the strongest candidate.

Teaching duties: The appointed person will be expected to deliver seminars and tutorials to groups of 10-20 students on a regular basis, to undertake assessment marking and to undertake undergraduate dissertation supervision. They will be expected to complete the required training and development activities as specified by the Department, achieving AFHEA status within the first two years of appointment. Teaching duties will not exceed nine hours of teaching and learning work (of which no more than six will be contact hours) during term time.

The Parana pine (Araucaria angustifolia) of southern Brazil is an iconic ‘living fossil’, dating back to the Mesozoic. This evergreen conifer once dominated highland areas of Brazil’s southern Atlantic Forest (a global biodiversity hotspot), but is now critically endangered due to extensive deforestation and is, therefore, a conservation priority for Brazil. To understand its response to future climate change, a better understanding of the reasons for its current biogeographic distribution is needed, which can only be gained via knowledge of the long-term history of this species over several millennia. Was the documented expansion of Araucaria forest over the last several millennia a response to increasing rainfall, or a function of pre-Columbian indigenous peoples enabling its expansion due to its economic importance? To tackle this question, a novel multi-disciplinary approach is needed, which integrates palaeoenvironmental and archaeological data with ecological-climate modelling studies.


Watch the following video where Prof Mayle explains more about this project:

Funding Notes

Remuneration: Tuition fees will be waived up to the level set for Home/EU postgraduate researchers, and the appointed person will receive a maintenance stipend and a monthly salary commensurate with their teaching duties.

Application: Please apply using the online application form at:


How to apply:

Full details of how to apply, as well as a podcast of this advert, can be found here



Talking Anthropology, Climate and Weather Conference


Three of our TPRG members will be giving a talk at this weekend’s Conference “Anthropology, Climate and Weather Conference” at the British Museum at our session:

P31. Indigenous populations-vegetation-climate relationship in the past: what can this teach us about sustainable vegetation use in the present?


The talks will include palaeoecological findings and the meaning for human and climate:

  • Francis Mayle, Ruth Dickau, Bronwen Whitney, Jose Iriarte. Pre-Columbian raised-field agriculture in Amazonian Bolivia — What lessons for sustainable land use today?
  • John Carson, Francis Mayle. Looking for anthropogenic forests in Amazonia: the potential and challenges in detecting a legacy of pre-Columbian land use.
  • Macarena Cárdenas, Francis Mayle, Jose Iriarte, Lauri Schorn. Dynamics of the Brazilian Araucaria forest and its responses to human land use and climate change, a long term perspective

If you are around, come to see us!


Click here for more details

By Macarena

Je Landscapes Project makes the Brazilian News!

The third year of our Je Landscapes project has just started and the team has been full on. This year the project started with a successful field trip in Southern Brazil, and with attendance to international conferences at the European Conference of Tropical Ecology and the Society for American Archaeology in Orlando where oral presentations from the team were made.

Considering also that the archaeological research started back in 2013, it is no surprise then that the project has had good attention from newspapers and media in Brazil lately. Here are links to some of the news and posts we definitely like:



Historia Revelada by Diario Catarinense Includes a video with the reconstruction of the findings

Origens povo catarinense


Escavações revelam hábitos de índios que viveram há mil anos no Sul do país Povos Jê by Folha de S. Paulo

Excavaciones revelan


Je Landscape in the cover of Diario CatarinenseCover_Je


Expedição Arqueológica em Urubici by EXPERIÊNCIA VMA



And more to come.

By Macarena


INQUA ECR 2016 Early Career Researcher Conference and Summer School



We are delighted to announce that we are finally ready to receive abstract submissions for the INQUA ECR Conference and Summer School 2016, at Reading, UK.


We have a wide range of activities and fun things to do at this event that you cannot miss, including lectures from renowned researchers, hands-on-training using models and empirical datasets, and of course the great opportunity to share your own research by giving an oral or poster presentation.


Check the website for more information

INQUA ECR Committee