Published on November 1st, 2020 | by Liz Martin-Silverstone


Episode 116: Ice Age Palaeoecology

When we think about the Ice Age or the Pleistocene, we generally think of large animals: woolly mammoths trudging through snow, sabre-tooth tigers taking down their next meal, and big bison out on the steppes. These are really interesting things to think about, but what else can we learn from the Pleistocene other than about big animals and their extinction?

We can also use the Pleistocene (which is relatively similar to the modern world in terms of continental layout, landscapes, and ecological niche availability) to explore questions of palaeoecology, biotic interactions and how changes in the environment can affect the local fauna. The relatively young age of the Pleistocene means that the available data is very different to palaeoecological studies of the Cretaceous or Eocene. This makes study of the Pleistocene much more appropriate for drawing comparisons to what’s happening today or what might happen in the future with climate change.

Joining us in this interview is Dr Jacquelyn Gill, an Associate Professor at the University of Maine, who works in palaeoecology. We talk about the different data available, the importance of understanding palaeoecology, including a recent paper from her group on seabird ecology in the Falklands, and what this might mean for the future.

Dr Jacquelyn Gill with some familiar Pleistocene creatures.
At dusk thousands of seabirds called sooty shearwaters (Ardena grisea) return to their deep nesting burrows dug into the peat of the tussac grassland at the Kidney Island National Nature Reserve, Falkland Islands. Image by Dulcinea Groff.
A rookery Southern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes chrysocome chrysocome) nest between a rocky slope and a tussac grassland and bring in nutrients from the ocean directly to the grasses at the Kidney Island National Nature Reserve, Falkland Islands. Image by Dulcinea Groff.
Maps of the study area on the Falkland Islands, where coring and sampling was done. Image from Groff et al. 2020.
On a summer day, a Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) rests on a pedestal outside of their burrow in the peat of the tussac grassland, East Falkland Island, Falkland Islands. Image by Dulcinea Groff.
A rookery of black-browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophris) nest at a windy, exposed tussac grassland on West Point Island, Falkland Islands. Image by Dulcinea Groff.
In the Falkland Islands, tussac grasslands that form deep peat deposits can be found eroding along some coastlines. Image by Dulcinea Groff.
Controls on Quaternary vegetation dynamics. Image from Gill et al. 2012.
Associate Professor Dr Jacquelyn Gill with some ice she uses in some of her research.

Tags: , , , ,

Back to Top ↑