Palaeoecology in the 21st century

Making better use of the natural long-term ecological observatory with high-specification equipment

Autostage

Photo: 
Massey University

John Birks, Hilary Birks, Anne Bjune, Arild Breistøl, Lene Halvorsen, Kari Hjelle, Cathy Jenks, Peter Emil Kaland, Aage Paus, Richard Telford, Gaute Velle, Kathy Willis

The palaeoecological record is a natural long-term ecological observatory. It is a means of ‘coaxing history to conduct experiments’ because in many environmental sciences ‘when time is needed, there is no substitute for history’. Fossil pollen, seeds, and animal remains in lake or bog sediments are used to reconstruct the ecology of past flora, fauna, populations, communities, landscapes, and environments of the last 100-100,000 years.

Palaeoecology is a demanding and challenging multidisciplinary subject involving botany, zoology, Quaternary geology, limnology, archaeology, cultural history, applied statistics, ecology, biogeography, and climatology. Its results apply to both basic and applied research.

Despite the enormous advances made in palaeoecology (refined pollen analysis, chironomid analysis, quantitative techniques, etc) and advances in geochemistry and molecular biology, palaeoecology remains a very time-consuming and labour-intensive activity and uses many of the same laboratory techniques that were developed 25-40 years ago. To address many of the environmental challenges that we are all facing today, palaeoecological data must be more precise than ever before in four main dimensions – space, time, taxonomy, and quantification.

The Advanced Scientific Equipment (AVIT) programme from the Norwegian Research Council (NFR) awarded the Palaeoecology Laboratory* a 10.3 million kroner grant to purchase equipment to bring palaeoecological research in Norway into the 21st century. Details of our purchases can be found here.

 

* The Palaeoecology Laboratory is part of the Biodiversity Laboratories in the Department of Biology at the University of Bergen and includes researchers from the Natural History Collections at Bergen Museum and the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research