Ancient human impacts in Amazonia – the debate continues…

How well can you ever really know 5.5 million km2 of hyperdiverse forest? The Amazon region, and this question, are at the heart of several ongoing debates in the natural sciences – why are there so many species? how much carbon can the forest store? how much did ancient humans impact the forests, and can we still see their effects today?

How fully can you really know a forest as huge and diverse as the Amazon?

This last question was the subject of a paper by Caroline Levis and colleagues published in the prestigious journal Science in March this year, which caused significant ripples within and outside the scientific community. In a nutshell, the article found that tree species humans have cared for are five times more likely to be forest ‘hyperdominants’ than you’d expect. Past human impacts also help explain where these species are found now, accounting for up to 20% of the variation in their distribution (for comparison, environmental factors explained up to 30%). The paper’s conclusion, as picked up by the media, is that “modern tree communities in Amazonia are structured to an important extent by a long history of domestication by Amazonian peoples.”

So, debate settled? Not quite.

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Thoughts on PAGES OSM- with photographic evidence

I am aware that not many people had the great opportunity like me to attend PAGES OSM 2017. Therefore, I wanted to share some of the key things that got stuck with me after the conference.

 

Science

There was an outstanding list of presentations and strong sessions. I am not aiming to pick a favourite, but I would like to highlight the following ones: “From the Mediterranean to the Caspian: paleoclimate variability, environmental responses and human adaptative strategies” with convener Ana Moreno et al, “Do species move or die” with convener N. Whitehouse et al, and specially “Disturbance dynamics across special and temporal scales” with convener Graciela Gil-Romera et al. Papers discussed there were largely multidisciplinary, and generated good discussions.

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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 been 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.

Enjoy!

 

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.

XIV IPC X IOPC

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

Portada

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.

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PhD opportunity

 Assessing the resilience of Brazil’s iconic Araucaria forest

to past and future climate change

Araucaria

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

Email: f.mayle@reading.ac.uk

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

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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:

 

Newspapers:

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

Youtube:

Expedição Arqueológica em Urubici by EXPERIÊNCIA VMA

VMA

 

And more to come.

By Macarena

 

Brain’s pick: European Conference of Tropical Ecology

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Here I want to share what my brain grabbed and maintained the most from the conference I attended last week in Germany.

 

First to mention is that I had a great time at the European Conference of Tropical Ecology. There was a great selection of fantastic talks, really good quality research, and outstanding projects.

OpeningTalk

At the Opening Ceremony, Gottingen University, and plenary talk with Professor Richard Corlett

There was a full-day session in paleoecology which I thought was well rounded covering topics such as ‘Ecological baselines for the high Andes’ with William Gosling, ‘Long-term dynamics of Amazonian rainforest and wetland ecosystems and the role of climate, sea-level, fire and human impact’ with Prof Hermann Behling, ‘Phytolith signatures along a gradient of ancient human disturbance in western Amazonia’ with Crystal MicMichael, and ‘History of geographical parthenogenesis of Neotropical Ostracoda using fossil and molecular data – a consequence of climate fluctuations?’ with Sergio Cohuo.

 

My contribution in this conference was talking about the preliminary findings of the Je Project in an oral presentation entitled ‘Araucaria forest, human land use, and climate change linkages in southern Brazil during the late Holocene’, which was well received and commented.

 

 

Other talks that stand out for me were:

Yadvinder Mahi(University of Oxford), gave a plenary talk on ‘New insights into the metabolism and carbon cycle of tropical forests from a global network of intensive ‘, where he showed some surprising outcomes from their project with GEM (Global  Ecosystem Monitoring Network ). GEM is massive network that measures productivity and gas flux within forest of the Amazon, Africa and Asia. I totally recommend to look at their webpage to look at what they are doing (for example: outstanding results come from Chiquitania in Bolivia)

 

Professor Susan Page (University of Leicester)gave a plenary talk on ‘Swamped! The trials and tribulations of tropical peatland science’: where she shared controversial information regarding management of peats from Indonesia, and the raw reality. A fantastic example of how we can use research for a common good.

 

Minnattallah Boutros a former researcher in conservation, now a business owner, brought another, feared topic to the conference, ‘Bridging the gap – Biodiversity conservation in the frameworks of research and development cooperation’, where she shared her knowledge in how to bring money to do research in ecology and conservation. She seemed to know very well what she was talking about, a great eye opener.

 

Kyle Dexter (University of Edinburg) gave a great presentation on ‘Patterns of dominance in tree communities vary across the major biomes’ and he highlighted how there are hyperdominant taxa, this time also including the Matta Atlantica (finally someone is talking about other biomes other than the Amazon!)

 

 

Other thoughts

Trends. It was very interesting to see stronger trends of research in ecology. A strong current seem to be appearing about Ecuadorian Amazon and Andean vegetation. There was a large session entitled “Developing sustainable land use and functional monitoring systems for the Ecuadorian Andes to cope with environmental change effects” where interesting research was shown. Other strong focus was towards wetlands and their role in carbon cycling, a whole session was on “Tropical wetland ecology”.

 

Staying connected. If there is something that always stands out of the conferences is that I take the most at seeing and talking to people from my field that I wouldn’t normally. Here is the most fun. Talking about projects and getting to know future plans are equally important (specially so you don’t step out in each other’s toes!).

 

Food. Not a minor topic for me (apparently I am a foodie). A delightful surprise from the organisation was to find out fantastic buffet at the Conference reception in the first night, accompanied with a live band that played from jazz, to modern rock. The snacks at coffee breaks were also delightful with selection of food even for vegan-gluten free people, finally!

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Snacks at coffee break… fresh fruit and nuts. Why nobody thought about this before?!

 

Well done to the organisation committee, and everyone attending.

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The band at the reception with a very keen academic

Looking forward to other conferences!

By Macarena

 

PhD opportunity with us

 

NERC ‘Scenario’ DTP PhD project at University of Reading:

 Assessing the resilience of Brazil’s iconic Araucaria forest

to past and future climate change

 

Araucaria

 

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

Email: f.mayle@reading.ac.uk

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.

Collaborator: Jose Iriarte, Dept. Archaeology, Univ. Exeter.

 

Background:

The Parana pine (Araucaria angustifolia) of southern Brazil is an iconic ‘living fossil’, dating back to the Mesozoic, when it was likely grazed upon by Sauropod dinosaurs.  This evergreen conifer once dominated highland areas of Brazil’s southern Atlantic Forest (a global biodiversity hotspot) until the colonial period, but is now critically endangered and is a key conservation priority.  To gain a robust understanding of the likely response of Parana pine to future climate change, a better understanding of the underlying reasons for its current biogeographic distribution is first needed, which can only be gained via knowledge of the long-term dynamics of this species over the past several millennia, in relation to both past climate change and pre-Columbian (pre-1492) human land use.  The overall aim is to determine the relationship between Araucaria forest, climate change, and human land use over the past ~ 6,000 years in southern Brazil, and thereby improve understanding of the likely response of this species to future climate change and the implications for conservation policy.  This PhD project complements an ongoing AHRC(UK)-FAPESP(Brazil)-funded project which provides the archaeological context.

 

Approach and Methods:

The student will use a novel, multi-disciplinary approach, which combines palaeoecological and archaeological data with ecological and climate models.  Fossil pollen will be analysed from bog sediments and fed into land-cover models (REVEALS, LOVE) to reconstruct the history of Araucaria forest over the last ~ 6,000 years.  These data will be integrated with ongoing archaeological studies and previously published palaeoclimate records to determine the respective roles of people versus climate change in driving late Holocene Araucaria expansion.  Climate models and ecological niche models (e.g. MAXENT) will be tested against these palaeo data and used to map the environmental niche of Araucaria through time, in response to past and future climate change.

Training opportunities:

Training will be given in field- (bog coring) and laboratory-based (pollen microscopy) palaeoecological skills (Mayle & Cárdenas), climate (Singarayer) and ecological (Walters) modelling, and integration with archaeological data (Iriarte).  Sediment cores have already been collected, but there will be scope to visit the field area and collect further material if necessary and any relevant ecological data.

Student profile:

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK honours degree at 2.1 level, or equivalent, in a relevant subject such as biology, geography or environmental science.  A strong background in numerical/statistical techniques is essential and knowledge of ecology, microscopy and coding/modelling would be advantageous.

 

How to apply:

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

http://www.met.reading.ac.uk/nercdtp/home/available/

The deadline for applications is 25th January 2016, although later applications may be considered.  For further details about the project, please contact the lead supervisor, Francis Mayle.