PhD opportunity: the domestication of Amazon rainforests by pre-Columbian societies

The domestication of Amazon rainforests by pre-Columbian societies 

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

Email: f.mayle@reading.ac.uk 

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

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOqdGeNe4L0 

Co-supervisors: Joy Singarayer, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading; Richard Walters, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Reading. 

Background: 

The extent to which pre-Columbian (pre-AD1492) human societies transformed Amazonia from a virgin wilderness into a domesticated landscape is one of the most contentious debates in tropical ecology.  The old paradigm of Amazonia as a pristine wilderness, little impacted by millennia of human occupation, has been challenged in recent years by remarkable discoveries of monumental earthworks across much of southern Amazonia.  However, although it is clear that these ancient ‘earthmoving’ societies transformed their physical landscape, the extent to which they also domesticated their forests – e.g. via burning, deforestation, agroforestry – is highly contentious.  The degree to which the biodiversity of Amazonian rainforests was shaped by millennia of human land use is highly relevant for understanding current patterns of biodiversity, rainforest resilience and land-use sustainability.     

The overall aim of this project is to determine the impact of Pre-Columbian societies upon Bolivian Amazonian rainforests – with respect to scale of deforestation, use of fire, and enrichment of forests with economically useful species. 

Approach and Methods: 

This project focuses on the monumental mound region of Amazonian Bolivia – a mosaic landscape of rainforests and seasonally-flooded savannas.  A dual data-modelling approach will be undertaken by the student:   

a)Palaeoecology– fossil pollen and charcoal will be analysed from lake-sediment cores to reconstruct local- and regional-scale histories of pre-Columbian forest impact over the last  2,000 years; i.e. scale of forest clearance and type of forest management (e.g. agroforestry, fire) associated with this mound-building culture.   

b) Modelling–an agent-based model will be developed (using NetLogo) to provide insights into the process by which this ancient culture domesticated these rainforests, and the extent to which a legacy of this ancient land use exists in today’s forests.  The student will parameterize the model using their palaeoecological data, together with previously published palaeoecological, archaeological and anthropological data, as well as floristic data from the RAINFOR ecological plot network.  

Training opportunities: 

Training in field- and lab-based palaeoecological techniques will be provided by Mayle, which will include a 4-week fieldtrip to the Bolivian Amazon.  Training in agent-based modelling will be provided by Singarayer and Walters.  Further training may be acquired via relevant NERC Advanced Training Short courses if need be.  

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 and microscopy would be advantageous. 

PhD Opportunity

Scenario_NERC

Millennial-Scale History of Amazon Forest Dynamics

 

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

Email: f.mayle@reading.ac.uk

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

Background

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

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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

 

 

Prof Frank Mayle at the Dome

Amongst the many other activities that our members of TPR do, enlightening young people about the great opportunity of studying environmental sciences is one of them.

Today we found our Principal Investigator Professor Frank Mayle  (photo below) taking part in this important task.

 

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With just some hours left before he goes on field trip Frank is found with hands on flyers and coffee and a large smile at the Dome, University of Reading

 

Open Days are great opportunities for young students that are considering to study with the university and that want to talk to the academics that teach and do research here. They can also find many current students of the university from the various qualifications offered to ask questions related to modules, living in reading, about social life and other activities.

A full-on and sunny day for Frank (who is due to leave to Fieldtrip in Bolivia 2016 in just some hours!)

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The Dome at the University of Reading Open Day

 

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Busy inside the Dome!

 

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Display of flowers and their pollinators at the Dome

 

by Macarena Cardenas