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Three researchers of the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) travelled to the isle Mauritius last weekend to host a workshop on the isle’s vegetation and climate history for local stakeholders. The researchers discovered a new mechanism which explains how vegetation on the isle responds to global climate change. These insights are a valuable contribution for the preservation of the indigenous vegetation of Mauritius.

Climate reconstructions

Ever since the colonisation of Mauritius some 400 years ago, up to 98% of the indigenous vegetation has been lost. However, the isle still has a high biodiversity and 40% of the present-day vegetation is found nowhere else on Earth. The research team tapped into various ‘natural archives’ such as peat layers and lake deposits and was led by Prof. Henry Hooghiemstra. By studying the pollen accumulated inside these archives the researchers were able to reconstruct the evolution of the isle’s climate and vegetation over the past 35,000 years.

PhD candidate Erik de Boer with Mauritian wildlife.

Migration out of the question

Large-scale changes in global climate, such as during the last transition from the ice age to the present-day Holocene, are usually accompanied on continents with the migration of ecosystems. On Mauritius however, the researchers discovered a different response. Due to the small size of the isle migration is out of the question. Instead the composition of the local forest changed in a number of successive steps known as ‘regime shifts’. The large diversity of the local vegetation may have been a key factor in this response.

This discovery offers an interesting perspective on the restoration of the disturbed state of the isle’s ecosystem. ‘Knowledge on the natural history of Mauritius provides a handle for present-day nature conservation’ explains Erik de Boer, PhD candidate at IBED. ‘We intent to involve local stakeholders and scientists in the outcomes of our research and will explore ways in which our work and approach can contribute to local conservation initiatives. Via this workshop we also aim to enthuse students for this field of research.’ The team will therefore visit the nearby island of Réunion where researchers are interested in performing similar studies in the near future.

The research visit to Mauritius and Réunion can be followed online.

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