New NERC grant to fund research on Amazonian peatlands

Picture of a fieldworker in dense palm swamp forest

Undertaking a forest census in a peatland palm swamp, Loreto, Peru

Ian Lawson, Katy Roucoux, Tim Baker (U. Leeds), Ed Mitchard and Mat Williams (U. Edinburgh) have been awarded NERC funding to continue their research into Amazonian peatlands. The project, “Carbon Storage in Amazonian Peatlands: Distribution and Dynamics”, will run for three years, and aims to improve our understanding of the distribution and functioning of these globally-significant ecosystems.

You can read more about our tropical peatland research on our dedicated website.

Quaternary Palaeoeocology training course

Generating robust reconstructions of the drivers of past environmental change increasingly demands the use of a multi-proxy approach. With this in mind, PhD student Robert Barbour recently attended an advanced training short course on Quaternary Palaeoecology, funded by NERC and held in the Natural History Museum in London.  The week-long course provided a fantastic introduction to a selection of the most widely used palaeoecological proxies, with a focus on diatoms, pollen, chironimids, vertebrates and beetles.  As well as comprehensive overviews of ecology, taxonomy, and issues concerning the inference of environmental information, the course presented the opportunity to practice preparation and identification of each biological group during lab microscope sessions, all under the supervision of leading academics and researchers.  It was a hugely informative and productive week, and many thanks go to the organiser Dr Tom Hill and all the other museum academics involved in making the whole event a great success!

A history of moorland burning in the Yorkshire Dales: searching for study sites

A recent trip to the Yorkshire Dales by new NERC CASE/St Andrews funded PhD student Robert Barbour and co-supervisor Althea Davies provided a brief introduction to the history and landscape of this beautiful part of the world. Using a range of palaeoecological proxies and historical documents, Robert will investigate the history of moorland burning in the Dales – specifically, how this key upland management practice and its impacts on vegetation and carbon accumulation have varied over the last millennium.


LEFT: A classic Dales landscape to the south of Bainbridge, Wensleydale: sheep pasture, hay meadows and isolated farms and field barns in the valleys, with moorland and extensive areas of blanket peat higher up. RIGHT: Blanket peatland to the north of Swaledale: what limitations does extensive peat degradation in this area impose on palaeoecological analysis?

The trip showcased how incredibly varied the Dales are in terms of their geology, vegetation, land-use, and archaeological features, which presents both opportunities and challenges. For example, areas with a limestone influence often support a distinct mosaic of vegetation types (the historical development of which has received limited research) and a large amount of documentary and archaeological evidence for past land-use, but tend to have fewer peat deposits which can provide high resolution palaeoecological records up to the present day.  Meanwhile, the bleak expanse of blanket mire visited above Swaledale and Arkengarthdale contains a huge number of potential palaeoecological study sites and extensive areas of moorland managed by frequent burning.  However, peat cutting, drainage and pollution from lead mining have caused considerable peat degradation, which may limit the quantity and quality of palaeoecological data. Determining the condition and location of peat records, vegetation and land-use types, and the amount of historical evidence available in potential study sites will be crucial over the coming months in shaping the research questions.



New paper on impact of vegetation structure on tephra preservation

A new paper has been published which examines the role of small-scale vegetation structure in preserving tephra layers.

Cutler, NA., Shears OM., Streeter, RT., Dugmore, AJ. (2016) Impact of small-scale vegetation structure on tephra layer preservation. Scientific Reports 6:37260

This paper follows on from fieldwork conducted by the authors in Iceland in June 2015.


The photo above shows one of the field sites from the paper (Fossdalur, in south Iceland) with (from left to right) Olivia Shears (University of Cambridge), Nick Cutler (University of Cambridge) and Richard Streeter (University of St Andrews) .

Three forthcoming meetings on tropical peatlands and palaeoecology

tropical-peat-coreThree meetings are on tropical peatlands and palaeoecology are being organised by members of the ECRG.

First is a session on tropical palaeoecology at the annual scientific meeting of the Society for Tropical Ecology (Gesellschaft für Tropenökologie, gtö), which will be hosted by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium on 6-10 February 2017. Session 22, “Beyond what the eye can see: paleoecological insights into tropical ecosystem dynamics and functions“, will be co-convened by Dr Katy Roucoux. You can find out more about the meeting here.

Secondly, Dr Ian Lawson and colleagues are convening a session at the EGU Annual Congress in Vienna on 23-28 April 2017. Our session on Tropical Peatlands aims to produce a synthesis of our understanding of peatland form and function across the tropics, drawing on recent research in Amazonia and Africa in particular and supported by the PAGES C-PEAT working group. The call for abstracts closes on 11 January 2017.

Thirdly, PAGES C-PEAT is to host a workshop on tropical peats in Honolulu in spring/early summer 2017, co-organised by Ian Lawson – more details expected soon.

Another PAGES session of note

Do species move, adapt or die? Exploring past biodiversity, ecological change and community dynamics in the fossil record – The remains of many species are well-preserved in Quaternary palaeoecological deposits and offer the opportunity to explore the formation, development and dynamics of biological communities over long temporal periods and address a range of key ecological and conservation questions. In this session, we particularly encourage papers that seek to explore species and community spatio-temporal dynamics and interactions, spread, extinction and niche evolution, over the different time-scales that apply to Quaternary studies. The session is convened by Nicki Whitehouse (Plymouth Uni.) with Helen Roe, Donatella Magri, Jane Bunting & me. Full details at (session no. 19).


Past Global Changes (PAGES) Open Science Meeting

The theme of the May 2017 PAGES meeting in Zaragoza is Global Challenges for our Common Future: a paleoscience perspective. The aim is to discuss and define the role of past global change science in the coming years. Abstract submissions are now invited. These include a session convened by me (Althea Davies) with Nicki Whitehouse (Plymouth Uni.) and Jane Bunting (Hull Uni.) entitled Palaeoecological perspectives on the role of animals in community dynamics and trophic interactions. Palaeoecology often focuses on lower trophic levels (plants, diatoms), but recent work on the effects of megafaunal extinctions on ecosystem structure and function shows the potential for a more integrated approach to the study of trophic systems over longer timescales. See the session outline (it’s no. 29) and full session list here: