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 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 Using a range of palaeoecological proxies and historical documents, Robert will investigate the history of moorland burning in the Dales – specifically, how this key upland management practice and its impacts on vegetation and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.
Glaciology research fellow Heïdi Sevestre is guiding tours in the Antarctic – follow her photo diary here: http://standrewsglaciology.org/2016/12/antarctic-adventures/
Last week, the Harmful Algal Blooms Archive (HABArchive) team and undergraduate students enjoyed the stunning scenery on the west coast during a coastal sediment sampling trip: https://habarchive.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/loch-etive-field-work/
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 http://www.pages-osm.org/osm/sessions-osm (session no. 19).
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: http://www.pages-osm.org/osm/sessions-osm
Although palaeoecologists have published papers on the relevance of long-term data to conservation for over 20 years, a book that brings together examples and relates them to contemporary conservation issues for a non-technical audience is long overdue. Biodiversity Conservation & Environmental Change: Using Palaeoecology to Manage Dynamic Landscapes in the Anthropocene, by palaeoecologist Lindsey Gillson, was published by Oxford University Press earlier this year. Key arguments are developed through a series of case studies, beginning with an example that Gillson knows well: managing elephant habitat and populations in African parks and reserves, followed by chapters based around extinction and rewilding, fire management, climate change, ecosystem services and cultural landscapes. This is an accessible teaching resource, with a full reference list. A review of the book, written by Althea Davies, will be available in the forthcoming issue of Trends in Ecology & Evolution: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2015.10.002
Migration is an essential adaptive response to environmental change, but enabling population movement within cultural landscapes is a real challenge, particularly where the establishment of new species may alter habitats that are designated for their current conservation value. This PhD aims to evaluate the role that tree species growing beyond their accepted native limits play in climate change adaptation, using naturalised Scots pine communities in northern England and southern Scotland as a case study. It will use ecological, dendroecological and palaeoenvironmental methods to assess how newly-formed pine communities develop, how they compare with native and plantation pinewoods, and how they impact surrounding open habitats. Europe lags behind the New World when considering how to move beyond static native/non-native classifications as part of conservation adaptation to environmental change, and this research will provide a robust evidence-base for evaluating the role of these contentious communities in UK conservation. The project will be jointly supervised by Prof Alistair Jump (University of Stirling), Dr Rob Wilson and Dr Althea Davies (both University of St Andrews). The project is available as part of the competitively-funded IAPETUS-Doctoral Training Programme, supported by NERC. The closing date for applications is the 4th January 2016. For details, please see http://www.findaphd.com/search/ProjectDetails.aspx?PJID=69019&LID=1455