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Daniel Pérez Pinedo, graduate of the MSc Biological Sciences at the UvA, is the winner of this year’s East-West Seed Graduation Prize for Plant Sciences. Last week he received the young-talent graduation prize, worth €5,000, for his thesis on the paleoenvironment reconstruction of the Central Myanmar Basin, supervised by IBED PhD candidate Huasheng Huang and associate professor Carina Hoorn.

Daniel Pérez Pinedo sampling at the Shwezetaw Pagoda section in the Minbu sub-basin (Photo credits: Dr Amy Gough).

The main research aim of the thesis of Daniel Pérez Pinedo was to reconstruct paleovegetation composition in Myanmar across the Eocene-Oligocene Transition (EOT), which took place about 33.9 million years ago and is one of the most important global cooling events. By documenting spatio-temporal turnover and differential pollen morphology in the dominant plant family Sapotaceae, he was aiming to get more insight into the origins of this family.

Field expedition

During the EOT the world transitioned from ice-free, greenhouse-like conditions in the Eocene to nascent polar ice-sheet expansion and global cooling in the Oligocene. This climate transition had a major impact on Southeast Asia.

Daniel Pérez Pinedo: ‘The terrestrial vegetation response across the EOT remained poorly understood. The Central Myanmar Basin stood as an excellent natural scenario holding a poorly studied sedimentary record across this geological boundary. We analysed the palynological record from the EOT in the Central Myanmar Basin on several locations on an expedition in January 2020.´

The expedition was conducted by the Myanmar Paleoclimate and Geodynamics Research group (MyaPGR) lead by Dr Alexis Licht and supported by the Treub Maatschappij MSc travel grant for fieldwork in the tropics.

Dr Alexis Licht and Daniel Pérez Pinedo sampling at the Shwezetaw Pagoda section in the Minbu sub-basin (Photo credits: Dr Amy Gough).

As part of his thesis research Daniel Pérez Pinedo reported three pollen assemblages identifying a paleoenvironmental turnover across the EOT. ‘We observed a transition from the Eocene evergreen tropical forests dominated by palms, into the Oligocene seasonally cooler and drier temperate forests dominated by gymnosperms,’ explains Pérez Pinedo.

The decrease in tropical species (such as palms) and the increase in coniferous elements and gymnosperms at the EOT, was interpreted as a transition from tropical forests to non-tropical evergreen coniferous and temperate gymnosperm forests. Pérez Pinedo concludes: ‘The EOT reveals itself as one of the main drivers of paleoenvironmental dynamics leading to a pronounced terrestrial reorganization regarding vegetation composition, and related to climatic and biogeographic dynamics in Myanmar, possibly extensive to Southeast Asia´.

Young-talent prize

East-West Seed, a tropical vegetable seed company with Dutch roots, awards this young-talent prize to promote stronger interest in the study of Plant Sciences. Dr Carina Hoorn, who is associate professor at the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, was supervising the MSc project of Daniel: ‘Throughout the project Daniel has demonstrated great initiative and determination. He also displayed a very clear understanding of the research questions, he worked independently, was able to synthesize complex information, and found elegant answers to the problems/questions that were presented to him, while acknowledging the limits of what the data can tell.’