Holocene reconstruction of terrestrial habitats and dispersal pathways in the Antarctic Peninsula and sub-Antarctic Islands

Dr Sandra Nogue, Prof Peter Convey (BAS), Prof Mary Edwards, Prof Dominic A.Hodgson (BAS), Prof Paul Hughes

Terrestrial environments of the sub-Antarctic and Antarctic present extreme challenges for life. However, during the last glacial period (and previous periods), Antarctic terrestrial life faced even more extreme environmental conditions, in particular with a drastic reduction in available terrestrial habitats (1). However, our current understanding of terrestrial biological range changes and dispersal processes in Antarctica as a consequence of changing environmental conditions throughout glacial cycles remains unclear. A combination of peat cores, monoliths, and pollen traps obtained in recent years in BAS, SOGES, and collaborating projects along the length of the Antarctic Peninsula and Scotia Arc provide a unique opportunity to advance this field. This project will use them to reconstruct vegetation dispersal and distribution (pollen, spores) and other biological proxies (e.g. guano-derived geochemistry) (2), contained invertebrate and microbial community elements (3)) across the latitudinal range from South Georgia (53°S) to northern Alexander Island (69°S). We will analyse, over short- and long-term, dispersal processes and the impacts of major drivers of change (e.g. climate) on life on land across this paradigmatic region for studies of climate change. The use of moss/peat cores allows, in particular, inference of biological processes occurring in summer, increasing the biological relevance of our reconstructions.


The student will focus on reconstructing palaeoecological records from existing moss/peat core or monoliths that represent different ages, from around one century (Alexander Island, South Sandwich Islands, to 2-3,000 years (Signy Island, Elephant Island), with older locations up to 5,500 years known to exist (but that would require new fieldwork to access material). The student will also work on existing pollen traps collected from some of the study sites mentioned above. If opportunity presents, further field collection from specific locations may be advantageous (e.g. Antarctic Peninsula via Collaborative Antarctic Science Scheme (CASS) application; southern South America), but is not integral to the project.

Palaeoecological analyses will focus on developing high-resolution: pollen and spore records (i.e. vegetation change), geochemical data for detecting key biologically-informative trace elements (e.g. Sr, Cu, Zn, Se, Ca, Se, P, C, N, S) (2), and invertebrate fragments throughout the cores to reconstruct changes in the contained invertebrate communities.

Finally, the student will undertake comparison between these records and existing palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental literature. Climate reconstruction and limited specific taxonomic studies have been completed using some of these cores to date, but no attempts to reconstruct either habitat characteristics over time or dispersal processes have been made.


University Of Southampton/British Antartic Survey (BAS)

The INSPIRE DTP programme provides comprehensive personal and professional development training alongside extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/policy partners. The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted at the School of Geography and Environmental science, with regular contacts with and visits to BAS (> 6 months).

Specific training will include: (i) Training in palaeoecological methods such as palynology (fossil pollen and spores), identification of invertebrate remains, and geochemistry; (ii) Statistical analysis using R, and (iii) the student will be trained in developing and understanding long-term datasets and integrate them within a complex systems framework. The student will also have the opportunity to participate in training for other professional skills (e.g. scientific writing and presentation, media and public engagement, polar and remote fieldwork planning).  

Previous R experience for statistical analysis will be an advantage.


Eligibility & Funding Details: 

Please check http://inspire-dtp.ac.uk/how-apply for details.

Background Reading: 

1) Convey et al (2009) Exploring biological constraints on the glacial history of Antarctica. Quaternary Science Reviews, 28, 3035-3048.

2) Roberts et al (2016) Past penguin colony responses to explosive volcanism on the Antarctic Peninsula. Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms14914

3) Roland et al (2017) Taxonomic Implications of Morphological Complexity Within the Testate Amoeba Genus Corythion from the Antarctic Peninsula. Protist, 168, 565-585.