The QMEE CDT Project proposal database

Welcome to the QMEE CDT Project proposal database. This is a live list of projects proposals put forward by PIs across the CDT partner institutions

PIs/Supervisors will continue to add projects to this list over the next few months, so do keep checking back! You can search the projects using the box below: simply enter some text and press Search to do a text search across all the database fields. If you want to search more finely, the search tool also allows you to search on particular details of the project descriptions: you will see these finer search options appear if you click on the search box.

Click on the view button next to a project to get the full proposal description. If you want to download project details, either for all projects, or for a subset you have searched for, then click on the 'Download details' button.

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The domestication of Amazon rainforests by pre-Columbian societies
Background and Aims: The extent to which pre-Columbian (pre-AD1492) human societies transformed Amazonia from a virgin wilderness into a domesticated landscape is one of the most contentious debates in tropical ecology. The old paradigm of Amazonia as a pristine wilderness, little impacted by millennia of human occupation, has been challenged in recent years by remarkable discoveries of monumental earthworks across much of southern Amazonia. However, although it is clear that these ancient 'earthmoving' societies transformed their physical landscape, the extent to which they also domesticated their forests -- e.g. via burning, deforestation, agroforestry -- is highly contentious. The degree to which the biodiversity of Amazonian rainforests was shaped by millennia of human land use is highly relevant for understanding current patterns of biodiversity, rainforest resilience and land-use sustainability. The overall aim of this project is to determine the impact of Pre-Columbian societies upon Bolivian Amazonian rainforests -- with respect to scale of deforestation, use of fire, and enrichment of forests with economically useful species. Approach and Methods: This project focuses on the monumental mound region of Amazonian Bolivia -- a mosaic landscape of rainforests and seasonally-flooded savannas. A dual data-modelling approach will be undertaken by the student: a) Palaeoecology -- fossil pollen and charcoal will be analysed from lake-sediment cores to reconstruct local- and regional-scale histories of pre-Columbian forest impact over the last ca. 2,000 years; i.e. scale of forest clearance and type of forest management (e.g. agroforestry, fire) associated with this mound-building culture. b) Modelling -- an agent-based model will be developed (using NetLogo) to provide insights into the process by which this ancient culture domesticated these rainforests, and the extent to which a legacy of this ancient land use exists in today’s forests. The student will parameterize the model using their palaeoecological data, together with previously published palaeoecological, archaeological and anthropological data, as well as floristic data from the RAINFOR ecological plot network.
Frank Mayle
Joy Singarayer
Richard Walters; r.j.walters@reading.ac.uk
Computing, Quantitative data analysis, Ecological observations / data collection
Joy Singarayer
1. Agent-based modelling (NetLogo) -- process of rainforest domestication. 2. Numerical analyses using R -- stratigraphic plots of palaeo data; C-14 age-depth Bayesian modelling; pollen richness using rarefraction analyses; pollen dispersal and deposition modelling to quantify land cover; DCA and PCA multi-variate stats of pollen and floristic data. 3. ArcGIS -- Landsat-based vegetation maps.
Few students develop expertise in field, lab, and modelling techniques, which is a problem as empirical data are needed to parameterise, and test the skill of, computer models, while modelling can reveal underlying mechanisms and processes of ecological change. This project is innovative because it will provide the student with this rare, but sought-after, set of complementary skills.
This project addresses a long-standing debate in Amazonian ecology -- the extent to which old-growth Amazonian rainforests are: a) largely virgin, relatively unaffected by pre-Columbian (pre-AD1492) human land use, or b) domesticated 'cultural' landscapes, significantly altered by millennia of human land use -- e.g. agroforestry, fire, deforestation etc.
In parts of Amazonia there is considerable conflict between indigenous peoples, landowners, and conservationists. The findings from this project provide a much-needed historical perspective to help resolve these conflicts, whereby knowledge of pre-Columbian land-use may reveal how conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services may be successfully intertwined with sustainable land use.
This project is the first application of agent-based modelling, integrated with palaeo data, to understand the process of domestication of Amazonian rainforests. The results from this novel approach have the potential to provide a significant step forward in resolving the decades-long debate over the historical relationship between humans and rainforest biodiversity.
The student will develop the following novel combination of skills in Geography, Biology and Meteorology departments. Field skills -- lake sediment coring and plant identification in Amazonia Lab skills -- pollen and charcoal sample processing; microscopic pollen and charcoal analysis. Modelling and numerical skills -- see above listed quantitative skills.
Conservation ecology, Ecosystem-scale processes and land use, Ecological/Evolutionary tools, technology & methods
Training in field- and lab-based palaeoecological techniques will be provided by Mayle, which will include a 4-week fieldtrip to the Bolivian Amazon. Training in agent-based modelling and other numerical techniques will be provided by Singarayer and Walters. Further training may be acquired via relevant NERC Advanced Training Short courses, and other University of Reading courses, if need be.
University of Reading; NERC short courses; Bolivia fieldwork.
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2019-05-17 18:27:15