All change please

September is nearly over, the trees and weather have decided to get autumn underway, and campus is again buzzing as thousands of new and returning students arrive for the start of a new term. It seems like an appropriate time to reflect on a summer of changes here in the TPRG.

The first change, and possibly the biggest, was Macarena leaving us for pastures new at Earthwatch in Oxford. Since starting her post-doctoral research post in 2014, Maca had been a popular and integral part of many areas in SAGES (the School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Sciences) – to say nothing of her roles in the TPRG, managing the lab and running the blog. Small wonder, then, that so many people came to her farewell celebration!

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TPRG in PAGES Magazine

The latest edition of the Past Global Changes (PAGES) Magazine was published yesterday, on the theme of ‘Sustaining Earth’s Biodiversity’, and it features three contributions from the TPRG team.

The sites discussed in Maca and Bronwen’s article, and their main plant species

The first, by Macarena and Northumbria University’s Bronwen Whitney, looks at how palaeoecology can shed light on the legacies of pre-Columbian people in Latin America’s modern ecosystems. It highlights Maca’s research on southern Brazil’s unique and ancient Araucaria forests (which has been part of the Jê Landscapes project, and which I’m continuing for my PhD), as well as Mayan breadnut palms in central America, and the chocolate forest islands and ice-cream bean cultivation of south-western Amazonia. It’s well worth a read, as are the research papers it discusses.

Heather also has two contributions in a mini-section reflecting on the PAGES Young Scientists’ Meeting 2017, an event she’s blogged about previously here (Palaeo-science in the Pyrenees). Her first article addresses the whys and (perhaps more importantly) hows of effective communication for palaeoscientists. Her second – equally important and closely linked – discusses the challenges of communicating the societal relevance of palaeo research, especially to funders and policymakers. Communicating research and its relevance is essential, and the insights and suggestions in these articles should be helpful starting points when considering it.

If you’ve got any questions or comments about the pieces, you can get in touch with Maca and Heather on twitter: @DrMacarenaLC and @HeatherPlumpton. The whole magazine edition can be read or downloaded here.

Oli

@olijwilson

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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Palaeo-science in the Pyrenees at PAGES YSM 2017

Morillo de Tou – the beautiful location of the YSM

I recently attend the PAGES (Past Global Changes) YSM (Young Scientists Meeting) as well as the OSM (Open Science Meeting) 2017 in sunny Spain. The YSM was particularly exciting – a group of 80 early career researchers met in the Pyrenees, at the restored village of Morillo de Tou.

Morillo de Tou

Morillo de Tou

 

The spectacular surroundings were matched by spectacular science, with a combination of great talks and posters as well as breakout group discussions and workshops. The schedule was pretty packed, but we made time for some star gazing with local astronomers and a night of traditional Aragon music and “dancing” in the moonlight. Overall, I thought the YSM was an excellent opportunity to meet other young scientists, and discuss issues of particular import to our community.

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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!

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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.

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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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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

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Mariah with her poster at the QRA conference

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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

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

 

 

PhDs confirmed!

 

Congratulations to Heather Plumpton and Richard Smith that just got their PhD confirmed at SAGES, University of Reading (Panel chair: Dr Nick Branch, current Head of School).

They did a fantastic job not just at presenting their projects and with their report, but in their overall achievements during the first part of their PhD.

Guys, nobody said it would be easy! Well done and carry on!

 

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Heather presenting her project “Amazonia and the 6K drought: what are the long term impacts of drought on south-west Amazonian forests?” Supervisors: Frank Mayle, John Carson & Shovonlal Roy

Amazonia under a mid-Holocene drought

Richard presenting his project “Amazonia under a mid-Holocene drought” Supervisors: Frank Mayle, John Carson, Shovonlal Roy, & Joy Singarayer