The Laboratory of Palaeobotany and Palynology has a long history in Utrecht University. Evolved out of a botany group, initially research focused on plant- and terrestrial ecosystem evolution, as can be seen from the extensive publication record on Paleozoic-Mesozoic terrestrial ecosystem reconstructions and mass extinctions. Macroflora remains from all around the world (mainly leaves, fruits and seeds) are extensively studied, from the entire sedimentary record. This research resulted in a worldwide-acknowledged palaeo-botanical macrofossil archive, of which the most valuable pieces are displayed in the beautiful palaeo-botanical museum within the “Earth Sciences” Building of Utrecht University.
Palaeobotanical Museum in the Earth Sciences Building of Utrecht University
The search for sedimentary archives led to investigations of marginal marine successions as well, from which in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s more and more marine algal remains (dinoflagellate cysts, dinocysts) were described. This marine branch of the group further developed with studies aiming to calibrate dinoflagellate cyst stratigraphy to other stratigraphies, allowing age assessment in marine sedimentary successions where conventional stratigraphic tools are lacking. Also, elaborate analyses on dinocyst assemblages developed in the LPP Foundation as a means to reconstruct paleoenvironmental change on continental shelfs. These tools, more so than conventional carbonate-based microfossil tools, are ideal for paleoenvironmental reconstructions in high temporal resolution, because shelves tend to record environmental change much more sensitively than abyssal sediments. Particularly the integration of dinocyst-inferred paleo-environmental change with the rapidly evolving field of organic geochemical molecular biomarker tools have proven to be very successful in reconstructing past environmental change.
Sediment cores from the Antarctic Margin, drilled during IODP Expedition 318 in 2010
While the ‘old’ palaeo-botanical research is still on-going, also more connections to present-day environmental change are explored. Quaternary palaeo-climatological studies were carried out on limnological archives, with coring expeditions in many lakes of e.g., Switzerland, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Florida. Other than lakes, also peat and estuarine archives were drilled extensively. The organic remains preserved in those archives provide an excellent tool to reconstruct high-resolution paleoenvironmental change on from the last glacial cycles to recent. Many of those archives penetrate beyond the age humans began influencing the environments, hence the environmental reconstructions provide a valuable reference framework for nature restoration of human-influenced landscapes.
Limnological fieldwork in the Swiss Alps
We here present a set of key research articles from our group, which represent good examples of our integrated, multidisciplinary work. We organized our broad spectrum of research into themes: Stratigraphy and Paleo-environments