PCU Team attends 2nd 'African Quaternary: Environments, Ecology and Humans' Conference, Kenya

7 Aug 2018 - 10:30

Last month, Estelle Razanatsoa (Supervisors: A/Prof Lindsey Gillson, Dr Stephan Woodborne, Dr Malika Virah-Sawmy) and Andriantsilavo Razafimanantsoa (Supervisors: A/Prof Lindsey Gillson and Emeritus Prof William Bond) PhD candidates at the Plant Conservation Unit (PCU), University of Cape Town (UCT) presented their research on vegetation change in Madagascar at the second 'African Quaternary (AFQUA): Environments, Ecology and Humans' International Conference held at the National Museum in Nairobi, Kenya, 14-22 July 2018. They also participated in various workshops held at the conference. 

The conference focused on climate and environmental research and gathered approximately 98 world-renowned scientists working in different regions in Africa from archaeological, palaeoecological and climatological approaches. Change in climate, fire history, as well as human economies in the African continents were discussed and it has been highlighted that African scientists need to acknowledge the challenges they are facing and communicate clearly their research in a way that is relevant to human dimension of the research zone.

During the session on African fire history called 'Africa on fire', Tsilavo presented on the impact of fire on forest patches and grassland in the central highlands of Madagascar over the last 9000 years (Fig 1). He showed that fire was present in the region with low frequency before human arrival and tends to increase towards the present period. In addition, he explained how dynamic the vegetation related to fire tendency was. After the conference, he then participated in a workshop called, 'Global Paleofire Working Group: Africa on fire!' where they showed how charcoal data should be analysed and interpreted, and demonstrated the use of the Global Charcoal Data.

Fig 1: Tsilavo Razafimanatsoa presenting on his PhD research during the 'Africa on fire' session

Estelle gave two talks. Her first talk was given during the paleoclimate session called, 'Quantitative palaeoclimatology, modelling and data-model comparisons' where she presented her results on the historical rainfall record of southwestern Madagascar generated from carbon isotope data analysis of Baobab rings (Fig 2). Estelle demonstrated the importance of such records for future research on the ecosystem as well as decisions on human adaptation to climate change. Her second talk was given during a session called, 'Applying the Quaternary: the role of the past in supporting the future'. Here she highlighted the role of the past in supporting the future by presenting on the vegetation response to human land-use in her study area and showed that paleoecology is a great opportunity to evaluate ecosystem change (equilibrium/alternative stable states) and to provide new information that could be used for sustainable livelihood which would not have been identified through traditional ecological analysis. After the conference, Estelle took part in the 'Radiocarbon dating and age-models' workshop, which focused on AMS radiocarbon dating techniques and creating chronologies, which is an important component of any palaeoecological work.

Fig 2: Estelle Razanatsoa presenting on part of her PhD research during the 'Quantitative palaeoclimatology, modelling and data-model comparisons' session

Overall, the conference gave both of Tsilavo and Estelle endless opportunities, such as networking, getting feedback from specialists, sharing their perspectives as early career scientists and, more importantly, building new friendships.

Fig 3 (from left to right): Estelle Razanatsoa (PCU), Tsilavo Razafimanatsoa (PCU) and Tamryn Hamilton (Wits University)

Estelle and Tsilavo would like to thank their respective supervisors and the PCU.

Thanks to Global Paleofire Working Group for providing funding to Tsilavo and the AFQUA committee for providing Estelle with the necessary travel grant for the conference.

~ Article & images contributed by Estelle Razanatsoa and Andriantsilavo Razafimanantsoa