Ecological and Environmental Change Research Group
Grubb review

Contributions of Quaternary botany to modern ecology and biogeography

John Birks spent a total of 22 months starting in October 2016 writing this monograph as a Grubb Review.

A peaty landscape showing the exposed remains of fossil pine stumps
Remains of Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) preserved in blanket bog on Rannoch Moor, Scotland. The stumps are about 4500–6000 years old. Such stumps were the first Quaternary plant fossils to be studied scientifically by the Rev. C. Tait (1794).
Derek Ratcliffe

Main content

John's 'Grubb Review' was published in Plant Ecology and Diversity in late 2019. It attempts to provide a comprehensive review of some of the contributions that Quaternary botany (mainly studies of pollen and plant macrofossils) have made to different aspects of modern ecology and biogeography. These include

  • tree-spreading and range dynamics
  • long-term soil changes
  • refugia
  • extinctions and exterminations
  • persistence, adaptation, and plasticity
  • realised environmental space and potential niches
  • the community concept and no-analogue assemblages
  • tree and forest dynamics
  • human impact in tropical forests
  • conservation ecology
  • island biogeography
  • megafaunal extinctions
  • biodiversity trends

The review has 124 pages of text, 77 pages of references, 13 pages of supplementary material, 28 figures, and 27 tables. Over 1600 references are cited. The monograph occupies two issues of a volume of the journal.

Writing the Grubb Review was a personal pleasure as Peter Grubb taught John in 1963-66 and they were colleagues from 1971-82. John used to run Peter Grubb's introductory botany practical classes that ranged from the arctic to Amazonia! Peter described John's review as a "tour-de-force".

When Grubb Reviews (GRs) were first introduced, the editors wrote "we foresee the GRs to accomplish an academic splendour, treating a variety of intriguing topics as a science publishing analogy to the GRs or grand randonnées of France, which are long-distance, often high-elevation panoramic walking routes. GR readers are invited to take the high road."

Birks, H.J.B. (2019) Contributions of Quaternary botany to modern ecology and biogeography. Plant Ecology and Diversity 12: 189-385 10.1080/17550874.2019.1646831