Tiny Chinese fossils hint at complex life on earth earlier than previously thought

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Original article published in Nature: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature13766.html


Science to the core explained

I am a palaeoecologist, which means that I use fossils (e.g. pollen, plant material, charcoal) to study the long-term history of earth’s environment. I am particularly interested in understanding how the environment has changed (if at all) on timescales ranging from tens to thousands of years and what might have caused these changes. There’s lots of evidence that I can draw upon. For example, fossilised pollen grains found in lakes and peat bogs can be used to build up a picture of past vegetation. Fossil pollen can be radiocarbon dated to establish its age. Together these lines of evidence tell us what vegetation was growing and when.

Collecting samples from Jiuzhai National Park, Sichuan, China

Collecting samples from Jiuzhai National Park, Sichuan, China

My work is varied and challenging. It involves travelling to remote locations in Asia and Australia to collect samples. The photo to the right shows me and my colleagues collecting samples from Tiger Lake; a beautiful green-blue lake in the centre of Jiuzhai National Park, Sichuan Province, China. Here we are collecting material (sediments) from the bottom of the lake using equipment that works a bit like an apple corer but on a bigger scale! Hence the coring reference in my blog title.

Jiuzhai National Park is located in the mountains of Southwestern China; a biodiversity hotspot home to many rare plants and animals. I am interested in finding out more about the Park’s environmental history as very little is known about the landscape and how it has changed in response to climate and human activities in the past.