Advancing the Application of Analytical Techniques in the Biological Chemistry of Sporopollenin: Towards Novel Plant Physiological Tracers in Quaternary Palynology

UoM administered thesis: Phd

Abstract

Palynology, the study of organic microfossils, is an important tool for improving our understanding of past environments and landscapes. Palynology provides a wealth of information from which climatic and environmental conditions can be inferred. However, inferred climatic and environmental conditions are often open to interpretation. Assumptions made about past climate conditions from pollen assemblages often rely on qualitative understanding of modern-day vegetation distributions, rather than empirical relationships. Historic anthropogenic impact on the environment must also be inferred, and assessments made as to whether vegetation changes are a result of climate change or human impact. This study seeks to address some of the questions that arise through the interpretation of pollen assemblages, by establishing empirical relationships between the geochemistry of modern pollen and climate or environmental controls. It focuses on the pollen of the climatically sensitive montane conifer Cedrus atlantica, which is distributed across the mountains of Morocco and Algeria. The study investigates aspects of modern pollen geochemistry and morphology and finds a strong relationship between the stable carbon isotope composition of modern pollen and mean annual precipitation (r2 = 0.54, p <0.001) and summer precipitation (r2 = 0.63, p <0.0001). Furthermore, a stronger relationship exists with aridity measured using the self-calibrating Palmer Drought Severity Index (r2 = 0.86, p <0.0001), suggesting that the stable carbon isotope composition of Cedrus atlantica pollen is influenced by environmental moisture availability. The study also finds there is an increased abundance of ultraviolet absorbing compounds (UACs) in modern Cedrus atlantica pollen with increasing summer UV-B flux. This relationship was evident with samples growing in their native range (r2 = 0.84, p <0.0001), but not with samples from outside this range (r2 = 0.00, p = 0.99), suggesting a possible genetic influence. Lastly, the study finds that grain size of Cedrus atlantica pollen is highly variable within and between samples, and we rule out climatic control on pollen grain size. These results suggest that quantitative relationships can be established between the geochemistry of Cedrus atlantica pollen and environmental and climatic influences. Stable carbon isotope analysis of fossil pollen could be used as a proxy for reconstruction of summer moisture availability, while analysis of UACs in fossil pollen could be used as a proxy for the reconstruction of summer UV-B flux. These proxies will enhance our understanding of climatic and environmental change in Northwest Africa and will complement existing palynological techniques for environmental and climate reconstruction. Palynology, the study of organic microfossils, is an important tool for improving our understanding of past environments and landscapes. Palynology provides a wealth of information from which climatic and environmental conditions can be inferred. However, inferred climatic and environmental conditions are often open to interpretation. Assumptions made about past climate conditions from pollen assemblages often rely on qualitative understanding of modern-day vegetation distributions, rather than empirical relationships. Historic anthropogenic impact on the environment must also be inferred, and assessments made as to whether vegetation changes are a result of climate change or human impact. This study seeks to address some of the questions that arise through the interpretation of pollen assemblages, by establishing empirical relationships between the geochemistry of modern pollen and climate or environmental controls. It focuses on the pollen of the climatically sensitive montane conifer Cedrus atlantica, which is distributed across the mountains of Morocco and Algeria. The study investigates aspects of modern pollen geochemistry and morphology and finds a strong relationship between the stable carbon isotope composition of modern pollen and mean annual precipitation (r2 = 0.54, p <0.001) and summer precipitation (r2 = 0.63, p <0.0001). Furthermore, a stronger relationship exists with aridity measured using the self-calibrating Palmer Drought Severity Index (r2 = 0.86, p <0.0001), suggesting that the stable carbon isotope composition of Cedrus atlantica pollen is influenced by environmental moisture availability. The study also finds there is an increased abundance of ultraviolet absorbing compounds (UACs) in modern Cedrus atlantica pollen with increasing summer UV-B flux. This relationship was evident with samples growing in their native range (r2 = 0.84, p <0.0001), but not with samples from outside this range (r2 = 0.00, p = 0.99), suggesting a possible genetic influence. Lastly, the study finds that grain size of Cedrus atlantica pollen is highly variable within and between samples, and we rule out climatic control on pollen grain size. These results suggest that quantitative relationships can be established between the geochemistry of Cedrus atlantica pollen and environmental and climatic influences. Stable carbon isotope analysis of fossil pollen could be used as a proxy for reconstruction of summer moisture availability, while analysis of UACs in fossil pollen could be used as a proxy for the reconstruction of summer UV-B flux. These proxies will enhance our understanding of climatic and environmental change in Northwest Africa and will complement existing palynological techniques for environmental and climate reconstruction.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date1 Aug 2018