Recently two ACCP MSc students had the wonderful opportunity to visit the University of Barcelona in Spain. This venture marks the start of amazing new research being conducted at the Palaeoecological Laboratory, based at Nelson Mandela University.

Ms Erin Hilmer (Palaeolab Lab Technician) and Ms Marishka Govender (MSc student) received training on phytolith analysis. Phytolith analysis provides a direct link to previous vegetation and climatic conditions, which is critical for understanding how rainfall zone boundaries have expanded or contracted through time. This data adds to our understanding of regional climatic variability and its effects on ecosystems, as well as offering insights into the larger context of environmental change. By pioneering phytolith analysis at Nelson Mandela’s Palaeoecological Laboratory, this research opens the door to further studies using fossil sediment exposures and sediment cores from the southern Cape.

Marishka’s MSc is employing phytolith analysis on a sediment exposure from the Baviaanskloof. Her project seeks to provide a greater understanding of Holocene palaeoenvironmental change in the southern Cape, through the identification and analysis of fossil and modern diagnostic phytoliths in sediment samples. Marishka’s training was focused on microscopy – the identification and counting of morphologically diagnostic phytolith types.

As it will be the Palaeolab’s first time processing phytoliths, in her capacity as Laboratory Technician, Erin received training to hone in on the lab processing aspect thereof, in order to teach future students that are looking to employ phytolith analysis at the Palaeolab.

This training was led by phytolith expert and Marishka’s co-supervisor Dr. Irene Esteban, who is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Barcelona, Spain and an affiliate of the African Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience.