I have collaborated in many projects, luckily always with nice, good, fun people and colleagues! In this section I will only detail the projects that I have led and some in which I had an important contribution.
BALE MOUNTAIN PROJECT: The Mountain Exile Hypothesis (March 2016-March2019) | Funded by DFG | PI: Dr. Georg Miehe

This project is a collaborative effort to answer a great question in East Africa: to what extent is the Afromontane forest a human-made landscape? The Afromontane plant communities form almost a relict landscape, appearing between 3000 and 4000 m asl at the Afromontane Archipielago across the African continent.

And the great is that this question leads to others even more interesting!, so we pose some specific objectives:

  • To determine the drivers and processes of environmental change and quantify the respective impacts at the landscape scale including abiotic factors such as climatic change, geomorphological/geological processes, fires, as well as biotic factors such as landscape engineering animals and the anthropogenic impact in an Afromontane region.
  • To determine the magnitude of anthropogenically induced long-term ecological and evolutionary changes both at a landscape level as well as on keystone plant and animal species and associated organisms at different trophic levels.

One of the areas within this Afromontane landscape that is really distinctive is the Bale Mountains region (Sanetti Pleateau, Southern Ethiopia). This area is especial because

  1. the upland paleoclimate of the Bale Mountains is diverging entirely from the surrounding lowlands by higher precipitation and,
  2. there is a strong hydro-climatological gradient between extended valley glaciers on the northern escarpment with their meltwater attracting wildlife and hunters

This in this projects several hypotheses will be tested:

  • H1: The Bale Mountains were suitable as a glacial (human) refuge.
  • H2: The Bale Mountains’ afro-alpine ecosystem has been continuously shaped by human activity, possibly since the Middle Stone Age.
  • H3: Early hunters and pastoralists have extended afro-alpine ecosystems using fire.
  • H4: The Bale Mountains’ afro-alpine ecosystem has been a pastoral plagioclimax since the mid-Holocene

To test all these we are using a multidisciplinary approach, including palaeoecology, palaeoclimatology and archaeology but also modern plant ecology and remote sensing. Stay tunned to News to get more in our fieldwork campaigns!

PYROS: long-term fire ecology: the central Pyrenees vs the Mediterranean Basin (September 2015-July 2016) funded by BBVA Foundation (31k €) | PI: Graciela Gil-Romera

This projects aims to reconstruct the post-fire response of some forest taxa since the Holocene onset in the Central Pyrenees, very sensitive to the fire activity compared to the Mediterranean Basin.

Sites where fossil pollen and charcoal will be analysed to infer vegetation post-fire response, changing fire regimes, biomass trends and climate feedbacks. Sites 1 to 4 are cores studied by the PaleoIPE team, while the others belong to the EPD and GPWG

Some specific objectives are:

  • Estimating fire regime parameters for the Central Pyrenees locations, frequency and intensity
  • Defining the thresholds of the climate-fire-vegetation interaction in all locations
  • Establishing time windows with different human pressures and surrogate evidences of anthropogenically induced changes, testing changes on fire regimes during that time
ARAFIRE: climate change and fire in the Pyrenees of Aragon: ecosystem response to disturbance during the last 2000 years (September 2012-September 2013) funded by DGA-La Caixa (24K €). | PI: Graciela Gil-Romera

In this project I tried to test the hypothesis of the human impact on fire regimes using palaeo record but also documented human activities, climate change record and vegetation response.

We have reconstructed the fire and vegetation history of two sites and we are now in the process of publishing more results (Lasheras et al.,2013) where we have found a correlation on fire response to climate change on an altitude sequence (Basa de la Mora, 1913 masl) y La Laguna Grande de Estaña (700 masl Morellon et al, 2009).

DINAMO and DINAMO2: Mediterranean vegetation DYNAMic in northeastern Iberia during the last 135,000 years: structure, chronology and vegetation response to different driving factors (Two joined projects from Jan 2010 to September 2015) funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation of Spain | PI: Penélope González Sampériz

These two projects aimed to detangle the patterns and processes of vegetation changes in northeastern Iberia during the Late Pleistocene and Holocene. To accomplish this central goal, these projects have funded the extraction and high-resolution paleo proxy study of the lacustrine sedimentary record of El Cañizar de Villarquemado (Teruel), an extraordinarily long sequence up to 72 m thick embracing the last 135,000 years of environmental change.Villarquemado sequence would be one of the very few long continental records of Europe.

DINAMO and DINAMO2 have intended to:

(i) to describe vegetation changes during the last two interglacials (Eemian and Holocene);

(ii) to discuss in a palaeobiological perspective, why the maximum advance of glaciers and the onset of deglaciation in the southern European mountains is so far anticipating the Last Glacial Maximum at a global scale;

(iii) to investigate the vegetation responses to North Atlantic rapid climatic changes during the last glaciation (Heinrich events, Dansgaard-Oeschger cycles);

(iv) to understand the climate-vegetation relationships, especially from the structural and compositional perspectives, during the stadial-interstadial and glacial-interglacial periods, in both the suborbital and orbital scales;

(v) to locate and characterize glacial refugia for woody mesothermophilous and Mediterranean plant species at inland Iberia and;

(vi) to elucidate the role and interactions of fire, climate and human activities in the evolution of plant formations from Mediterranean Iberia.

We are still in the process of publishing these results, but some sections of the record have already been published as the Lateglacial and Holocene record (Aranbarri et al., 2014) The Holocene history of Villarquemado proves the ecosystem to be very resilient but still sensitive to climate fluctuation, especially moisture.

Comparison of several sites in the most continental areas of SE Iberia. Villarquemado shows persistent dominance of conifers and grasslands evidencing a marked resilience of terrestrial vegetation and gradual responses to millenial scale climate fluctuations
PALEOLETRINA: the pioneer use of biogenic fossil accumulations as a proxy of environmental change in the Iberian peninsula (September 2010-August 2012) funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation of Spain (10k €) | PI: Graciela Gil-Romera

In large areas of the Iberian Peninsula there are not suitable basins for the preservation of proxy records. Inspired by my African experience with hyrax middens, we found in a Pre-Pyrenean region (Sierra de Guara, Spain) a ovocaprine latrine that was surprisingly chrono-estratigaphically coherent. The midden records a time period between 1100 and 1800 AD, showing some changes linked to the end of the Medieval Climate Anomaly and the Little Ice Age (Gil-Romera et al., in prep)

In the mosaic of pictures below you can see the location of the midden in Sierra de Guara. We suspect this is a midden formed by animals and shepherds during the Middle Age in a sheltered location. Midden was ca 1 m thick and pollen and charcoal are now being analysed.