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Disentangling environmental change in the Amazon: vegetation responses to Holocene drivers in the National Park of Yasuní (Ecuador)

School of Environmental Sciences

About the Project

Environmental change is a global phenomenon for which understanding the biota responses is essential. Tropical South America holds some of the most biodiverse ecosystems, so long-term vegetation dynamics’ studies are needed to understand the functioning and conservation of these globally important and under-studied areas. Moreover, lately observed human occupation may have played in some areas a key role in shaping the current landscapes and diversity, which might be important when analysing the resilience of a
given ecosystem in facing perturbations

The project aims to study the long-term dynamics of Amazonian forests in the Yasuní National Park (Ecuador). Main objectives are to:
1. Characterize the nature and composition of vegetation on the lowland forests in northwestern Amazonia during the Holocene unravelling the onset dates and environmental
conditions of the current landscape establishment.
2. Establish fire history, climate conditions and depositional environment including fluvial influence.
3. Assess the amount of vegetation change within Amazonian forests as a result of Holocene (i) climate change, (ii) river migration, or (iii) human influence.
4. Using the palaeo signatures to try and chart future trajectories for the National Park.

The novel combination of proxies including pollen (vegetation), non-pollen palynomorphs (land-use), charcoal (fires), XRF (erosion), OSL (transportation) and biomarkers (precipitation) is unprecedented in the tropics and will generate a dataset capable of providing pioneer insights on long-term vegetation dynamics facing environmental changes. Besides a wide range of lab and computer techniques, environmental skills will be enlarged by fieldwork. TIMELINESS The influence of pre-European human settlements in current Amazonian landscapes and diversity is amongst the hottest scientific debates in tropical ecology nowadays, with a joint effort from ecology, botany, and archaeology scientific communities. Moreover, the role of hydrology as driver of vegetation change has been barely explored in the long-term. Local collaborators are already guaranteed.

Notes and how to apply are available here:
Apply at:

For any enquiries please contact the SoES PGR enquiries/ACCE DTP team on

Funding Notes

NERC ACCE DTP in Ecology and Evolution, programme starts October 2021.
UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2020/21 UKRI rate £15,285)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2020/21 rate £4,407)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)
A limited number of international fee bursaries will be awarded on a competitive basis. However, if selected International and EU fee rate candidates may need to cover the remaining amount of tuition fees by securing additional funding. International fees for 2021/22 entry are not yet fixed, but as a guide fees for 2020/21 entry were £23,650 per annum.

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