INQUA ECR 2016 Early Career Researcher Conference and Summer School

 

website

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

 

 

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.

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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

 

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

 

TPR in a Chilean School

 

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San Ignacio School (Colegio), Source La Tercera

Our lab made presence in South America during late December 2015, specifically in Santiago of Chile. This was a visit during which I had the opportunity to be at the facilities of San Ignacio School and enjoyed using one of the microscopes in their large teaching laboratory with wooden tops (it was like being back to school!).

On the other hand I took the opportunity to share some knowledge about our research and the world of pollen. I had a great conversation with Mr Luis Lara and Miss Carolina Guerrero (photo below), both responsible at the Sciences Department of the School. TPR donated samples of pollen reference collection of key taxon with some fun morphologies that they will use for future botany classes and highlight the amazing world of cells.

Thanks to Colegio San Ignacio for opening the doors for me and special thanks to Luis and Carolina that made me feel like at home.

 

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Luis and Carolina at the San Ignacio School’s laboratory

 

About San Ignacio School:

San Ignacio School (Colegio) is one of the top schools of Chile. Every year San Ignacio’s graduates get national score in the test to enter the University, best scores include in tests in the area of science.

 

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.

 

 

Summer in Bolivia-Fieldwork experience

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A sunset in the field. Richard and Frank returning at sunset from coring Laguna San Jose

This summer I went on my first fieldwork season to the tropics. It was definitely an experience! Since I’ve come back everyone who I’ve spoken to about it has said how wonderful it must have been, and how lucky I am to be able to do this as a job. And I completely agree; it was an amazing opportunity to work in such a different and exciting environment, and to see/touch the vegetation that I study and discuss all the time from afar. I also got the chance to experience Bolivian culture and improve my Spanish speaking skills (which really needed it!).

 

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Sunlight on Laguna San Jose

 

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The road to one of our sites, Tumichucua

However it was also a lot of hard work, and definitely not a free holiday. We were often up early and working in the 34 degree heat and humidity all day, staying out as long as the sun was up and then sometimes processing samples in the evenings. But I knew that was going to happen. I think the most important lesson I learnt about fieldwork, especially in the tropics, is the amount of time that needs to be spent on logistics, organisation and communication once you’re out there. You can’t set out on your fieldwork with a completely fixed idea of what you’re going to sample and where. Of course it is important to have a plan, but you need to accept that everything can change once you’re out there. You can’t hope to understand the logistics of accessing a site using googlemaps alone! Local knowledge and co-operation are absolutely key, and we were lucky enough on our trip to have some great help from colleagues and locals.

 

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Richard and I covered in orange road dust after riding on the back of the truck

We are out there to do work, and get the samples that will form the backbone of our research for the next few years (hopefully!), but it is also easy to get lost in the work and forget how beautiful the place you are working in really is. One day after a hot day digging a soil pit in the dry forest near Concepcion we decided to go swimming in a local lake as the sun set. It was beautiful and cold(ish) but sadly we didn’t pay quite enough attention to the large sign with a sad face on it next to the lakeside. We paid for it dearly the next day, when I came down with a pretty rough intestinal infection and left the others to dig the soil pit without me!

So my first experience of tropical fieldwork was challenging, but also incredibly inspiring and enjoyable. I hope I get the chance to go again!

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Commuting to work…

by Heather Plumpton

Swapping Amazon fieldwork stories with Sir Ghillean Prance

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Front of the Kew Millennium Seed Bank (courtesy of Frank Mayle)

 

On 26th October I gave a talk at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank at their symposium entitled ‘Amazing Amazon – seed biology and the bio-economics of native species’.  While there I had the great privilege of fulfilling a long-term ambition of mine – to finally meet Sir Ghillean Prance – the world-renowned expert on Amazonian botany.  Over a rack of ribs and a few pints at a local village pub I really enjoyed chatting with him about our respective fieldtrip adventures in the Amazon over the years.  I was also delighted to receive a signed copy of his latest book ‘That Glorious Forest’ where Ghillean regales us with his field expeditions in the Amazon, dating back to his first trip in 1963!  Great bedtime reading for me at the moment.

 

by Frank Mayle 

 

Antarctic temperatures, tropical research: Presenting at the QRA postgraduate conference

Between the 2nd and 4th of September, Heather and I attended the 2015 QRA Postgraduate Symposium at the University of Cambridge. As this was a conference only for PhD students, we saw this as a great opportunity to go and present for the first time in a relaxed environment and in front of a friendly crowd!

On the first day we had a guided tour of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) headquarters. These headquarters contain research facilities, laboratories, mapping facilities, geological stores and offices that support the research activities that BAS carry out in Antartica. We saw their marine biological research aquarium, where marine creatures are kept and studied after being bought back from Antartica. The logistics of transporting these creatures made getting samples back from the Amazon seem easy! We visited their mapping department, who produce bespoke maps for the Antarctic region. The researchers on field visits are dependent on these maps, especially the pilots of the aircraft that transport people and equipment across the region to various research stations and outposts. We then nearly froze to death after visiting one of their ice core laboratories! Finally, we saw their geology store where they have thousands of rocks and fossils. Overall, it was fascinating to see the work being carried out in a different field of research to our own – though I think I’m glad of getting to work in the 30-40˚C heat of the Amazon rather than the -20˚C of Antartica! In the evening, we had an ice breaker at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. It was quite novel to be eating and drinking wine in the company of some dinosaur skeletons.

The second day saw the start of the main conference. The conference was split into 5 sessions: 1. Ice Cores/Antartica, 2. Ocean Circulation, 3. Palaeoclimate reconstruction of UK/Ireland, 4. Palaeoclimate reconstruction of Eurasia, and 5. Palaeoclimate reconstructions of equatorial regions. We heard some really interesting talks on a wide range of topics such as reconstructing ocean circulations over 1.5 million years, reconstructing postglacial landscapes, looking at climatic impact of anthropogenic land use change, and many more! Mine and Heather’s talks were in the last session, so we had to wait till late afternoon on the second day. Although our projects are quite similar, I felt we successfully gave two complimentary presentations (and I don’t think the audience were too bored after hearing about the Amazon twice in a row!). Heather also got 2nd place in the ‘best presentation’ prize which was great!

 

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Richard at the conference talking about future climate predictions

 

Heather Plumpton

Heather talking at the conference about her sites in the Bolivian Amazon

Overall, it was a great conference to attend. It was the first time we had presented at a conference and the relaxed atmosphere made the whole experience much less stressful than it could have been. Everybody was very friendly and it’s always nice to hear about the interesting research that people are doing.

 

By Richard Smith

Where Palaeoecology leads us 2: A&E

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Figure 1.  The Hospital, for most people, a dreaded place. For us, a place of revelation

 

This is the sequel to the post about “Guns” where we talk a little bit about where palaeoecology leads us when we follow our quest for investigating the past using lake/bog sediments.

 

An unusual patient

If you are worried about the consequences of working in palaeoecology, I can assure you that my recent visit to A&E was not because of an accident (and was not an accident either). This was a very well planned visit to the hospital to become more familiar with my beloved Brazilian patients, my bog cores.

 

Having taken over 110 Russian cores from numerous bogs across southern Brazil, between Frank Mayle and I (check out the Je Landscapes Project website to know more), I needed a quick non-destructive technique to visualize the internal structures of the cores so I could select the best ones for the project. I therefore decided to take x-rays of these half-metre cores. This relatively low-cost technique allows us to identify any key lithological changes through the core which are not apparent to the naked eye. The differences in density are seen in the resulting images as shades of light and dark. The lighter the colour of the image, the denser the sediment is. That is why features such as clastic material and tephra layers appear light, in comparison with organic peats which are usually dark.

 

 

So I arrived at the hospital with two oversized suitcases (Figure 2), completely filled with sediment cores (I am glad to say that I didn’t have to rush there). Carrying the cores this way allowed me to navigate easily through the labyrinthine hospital and get to the subterranean x-ray room.

 

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Figure 2. Just arrived at the Hospital

 

The X-ray manager was very helpful, and we worked together as a great team, with me unwrapping the cores and placing them on the plate, taking notes and hiding behind the x-ray shield; while he was pressing the button and inputting the information into the computer (Figure 3). It was a relief to be on the other side of that shield.

 

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Figure 3a. Our view to the patient. Behind the shield

 

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Figure 3b. Not sick looking, one of the bog cores being analyised

 

The cores just about fitted on the x-ray plate (in diagonal) (Figure 4). I am glad I checked that beforehand! If you are considering taking x-rays of your cores, its important to call the hospital beforehand to make sure they have the plate size you need. It seems that most of the x-ray facilities only have the 23cm length plate, which is no where near large enough for a half-metre Russian core.

 

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Figure 4. X-ray of one of the bog cores

 

I am pleased with the results. The images allow me to distinguish internal structures and therefore enable me to select the best cores (some cores look fine from the outside, but with the x-rays I can see some small gaps in the sediment). On the other hand, the lithological changes revealed by the x-rays enable me to cross-correlate overlapping and duplicate cores. A particularly useful further step is to undertake grey scale analysis of the x-ray image, which can reveal even greater detail (Figure 5), especially when correlating with XRF and magnetic susceptibility results.

 

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Figure 5. Grey scale analysis performed with ImageJ in one of the cores

 

This was my first experience of undertaking x-ray analysis of bog cores, and I must say that I am very pleased with how useful this technique has proven to be.

 

By Macarena Cárdenas