Preserved pollen tells the history of floodplains | 1/5/2018 | Staff
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Many of us think about pollen only when allergy season is upon us.

However, for soil scientists like Matthew Ricker, pollen can be an invaluable tool. By tracking fossil pollen in soil, scientists can look back in time to better understand past land use and climate dynamics.

Example - Settlers - Forests - United - States

For example, when European settlers cleared forests in the eastern United States and planted crops, the pollen profile in soil changed. Ragweed and grass pollen became more common. Tree pollen became rarer.

But, the study of fossil pollen has been restricted to relatively few sites, usually those near lakes or bogs. In a new study, Ricker and colleagues report that fossil pollen can be a viable tool in floodplain soils.

Floodplains - Pollen - Ricker - Scientist - North

"We show that floodplains can contain abundant preserved pollen," says Ricker, a scientist at North Carolina State University. "Therefore, floodplains can be useful sites to explore past climate and land uses."

The study also showed that certain soil properties, such as the concentration of organic matter, are positively correlated to pollen abundance. That's important because pollen extraction and counting is relatively expensive if sent to a commercial lab. "It can often cost hundreds to thousands of dollars," says Ricker. "If done in-house, it can be a very time-consuming process."

Findings - Scientists - Soil - Properties - Pollen

The new findings will allow scientists to use easy-to-measure soil properties to predict whether preserved pollen is likely to be found in specific soil layers. Soil properties that correlate with pollen abundance include organic matter concentration and carbon-to-nitrogen ratio.

For the study, the researchers collected a total of 117 soil samples. Study sites were spread across 18 locations in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Researchers - Soil - Properties - Matter - Particle

The researchers measured several soil properties, including organic matter, particle size and iron content. "We measured these soil properties as proxies for processes known to impact the preservation of pollen in natural systems," says Ricker.

Fossil pollen can break...
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