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Event details of PhD defence ceremony by Britte Heijink
13 March 2024

Amazonian rainforests are incredibly biodiverse and provide global ecosystem services, but are threatened by fires, which completely alter ecosystem function and structure. Fires, especially in western Amazonia, almost always have an anthropogenic origin. However, much is unknown about the long-term recovery and multi-generational successional processes following fire events. Due to the long lifespan of tropical trees, past fires may have left ecological legacies in modern forest composition in Amazonia. The goal of this thesis is to investigate how past fire events impact successional trajectories of past vegetation change and whether these fire events and related human impacts have left ecological legacies in modern Amazonian forests.  I specifically focus on western Amazon and changes in palm abundances and composition through time, as palms were an economically important plant family to past peoples. I compared lake charcoal records across the Amazon Basin and found fire was least prevalent in western Amazonia. On a local scale, very limited evidence of past disturbances was present in forest plots in northwestern Amazonia. Palm abundances have been increasing since the mid-Holocene, but this increase is not related to past fire events. Past fire likely have left low to none ecological legacies in these forest plots. Modern trait composition across western Amazonia is associated with past fire events, but more research is necessary to disentangle relationships between past fire, soils, and modern vegetation. Overall, western Amazonia likely contains the least intense ecological legacies in comparison with the rest of Amazonia.

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