The Prehistory of Easter Island

This book addresses the main enigmas of Easter Island’s (Rapa Nui, in the Polynesian language) prehistory from the time of initial settlement to European contact with a multidisciplinary perspective. The main topics include: (i) the time of first settlement and the origin of the first settlers; (ii) the main features of prehistoric Rapanui culture and their changes; (iii) the deforestation of the island and its timing and causes; (iv) the extinction of the indigenous biota, (v) the occurrence of climatic shifts and their potential effects on socioecological trends; (vi) the evidence for a cultural and demographic collapse before European contact; and (vii) the influence of Europeans on prehistoric Rapanui society.

Download the front matter.

The book is subdivided into thematic sections and each chapter is written by renowned specialists in disciplines such as archaeology, anthropology, paleoecology, ethnography, linguistics, ethnobotany, phylogenetics/phylogeography and history. Contributors have been invited to provide an open and objective vision that includes as many views as possible on the topics considered. In this way, the readers may be able to compare different points of view and make their own interpretations on each of the subjects considered. The book is intended for a wide audience including graduate students, advanced undergraduate students, university teachers and researchers interested in the subject. Given its multidisciplinary character and the topics included, the book is suitable for students and researchers from a wide range of disciplines and interests.

Reference

Rull, V. & Stevenson, C.M. (eds.) 2022. The Prehistory of Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Towards an Integrative Interdisciplinary Framework. Springer Nature, Cham.

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Posted in archaeology, biodiversity, Books, My publications

Integrity

Grigoriy Perelman (St Petersburg, 13 June 1966) is a mathematician who refused the Fields Medal – considered the Nobel Prize of mathematics – and a Clay Mathematics Institute‘s million-dollar prize for solving the Poincaré conjecture, one of the seven Millennium Problems. In 2005, Perelman withdrew from mathematics and quit the math community because he was disappointed by the lack of ethics. He said:

“It is not people who break ethical standards who are regarded as aliens. It is people like me who are isolated.”

“Of course, there are many mathematicians who are more or less honest. But almost all of them are conformists. They are more or less honest, but they tolerate those who are not honest.”

“I had a choice, either to make some ugly thing – a fuss about the math community’s lack of integrity – or to be treated as a pet. That is why I had to quit.”

Read the whole story at:

Nasar, S, & Gruber, D. 2006. Manifold destiny. The New Yorker, August 28, 44-57.

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Posted in Science, Society

A new perspective on the origin of Neotropical mangroves

Mangroves are forested ecosystems that dominate tropical and subtropical coasts all over the world. Currently, these ecosystems are thought to have originated in the Cretaceous, on the coasts of the former Tethys Sea, and evolved into divergent Paleotropical and Neotropical mangrove communities after the closure of this pantropical sea. However, a fresh reconsideration of the available fossil pollen evidence from the Neotropical region suggests a different evolutionary framework.

According to the new conception, which will be published soon in the journal Earth-Science Reviews, the emergence of mangrove communities in the Caribbean region, the cradle of Neotropical mangroves, occurred in the Eocene and constituted an evolutionary novelty with no Cretaceous precursors. Actually, no reliable evidence has been found for the occurrence of Caribbean mangrove communities before the Eocene, when Neotropical mangroves originated de novo disconnected from the Paleotropical realm.

Distribution of mangroves (in red) around the world. The Caribbean region is highlighted by a green box. Image source

The keystone development for the origin of Neotropical mangroves was the evolutionary appearance of mangrove-forming trees, without which mangrove ecosystems cannot exist at all. In the Caribbean region, the first mangrove-forming tree was the Eocene ancestor of the present tea mangrove (Pelliciera rhizophorae), which is now restricted to a small region of Central America but was widespread across the Neotropics during the Eocene. Tea-mangrove trees acted as “condensation nuclei” for the organization and development of these novel ecosystems by recruiting species pre-adapted to tidal conditions, which led to the formation of the typical composition and structure of mangrove communities.

Tea mangroves (Pelliciera rhizophorae) from Costa Rica, Central America. Image source

This novel and challenging evolutionary scenario would lead to the reconsideration of current theories about the origin and evolution of mangroves on a global scale, as most of them are based on the still undemonstrated existence of hypothetical Cretaceous precursors.

Reference

Rull, V. 2022. The Caribbean mangroves: an Eocene innovation with no Cretaceous precursors. Earth-Sience Reviews, doi 10.1016/j.earscirev.2022.104070.

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Posted in My publications

Restoration paleoecology

Paleoecological records are useful in that they inform ecological restoration efforts by not only providing the most suitable pre-anthropic baselines, but also identifying unrealistic and unfeasible restoration targets due to climatic, cultural, and economic constraints

In a short paper recently published in the PAGES (Past Ecological Changes) Magazine, I disclose some cases in which paleoecology demonstrates that preanthropic scenarios are impossible to be attained for climatic handicaps or are inappropriate restoration targets for cultural reasons.

The case studies come from: 1) the Gran Sabana (northern South America), 2) the Pyrenees (SW Europe), 3) Easter Island (SE Pacific) and 4) the Azores Islands (N Atlantic).

Read the full story at:

Rulll, V. 2022. Paleoecology helps optimize restoration efforts by identifying unrealistic pre-anthropic targets. PAGES Magazine, 30: 18-19.

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Posted in My publications, Society

Inductive predictions in biology

Is biology able to formulate general laws and develop inductive predictions as in physics or chemistry?

The possibility of using prediction in biology as an inductive method is hampered by the lack of fundamental laws that can be formulated mathematically. As a consequence, biological induction is based mainly on generalization after hypothesis testing, an approach that has also been called accommodation.

Contrastingly, inductive predictions, as used in physics or chemistry, are formulated before the desired empirical evidence, which is actually the target of the prediction, is available. Physicochemical laws are viewed as immutable rules, and knowledge advances by finding the evidence needed to fulfill these laws.

There is nothing intrinsically good or bad in inductive prediction and accommodating generalization per se, and different scientific disciplines may have diverse procedures, depending on the nature of the part of the world they study.

It could be asked why biologists need to imitate conceptual methodologies of other scientific disciplines such as physics, chemistry, or mathematics and compulsively seek fundamental laws.

The advances in biological knowledge using these accommodating procedures are plentiful and evident. What if, after all, fundamental laws only work for submolecular and astronomical worlds and life is a disturbing anomaly in between?

Read the full discussion in:

Rull, V. 2022. On predictions and laws in biological evolution. EMBO Reports, 23: e54392.

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Posted in My publications, Science, Society

Cannabis origin, evolution and domestication

In a paper that is about to be published in the journal Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics, the origin, early dispersal, human domestication and anthropogenic diffusion of Cannabis are reviewed and discussed.

According to DNA phylogenies, Cannabis diverged from its sister genus Humulus between the mid-Oligocene (28 Ma) and the early Miocene (21Ma), but the first fossil records date from the early Miocene (20 Ma). Then, this plant expanded from its center of origin (the NE Tibetan Plateau) to Europe and eastern Asia between the Miocene and the Pliocene, before the onset of human evolution.

During the Pleistocene (the last 2.6 Ma), the European and Asian cannabis populations became geographically isolated due to the glacial-interglacial recurrence, which led to the evolutionary origin of the ancestors of the present subspecies – C. sativa subsp. sativa in Europe and C. sativa subsp. indica in Asia. The first is the putative hemp ancestor (PHA) while the second is the putative drug ancestor (PDA).

Human domestication of Cannabis (PDA) took place in E Asia ca. 12,000 ago (early Neolithic), which situates this plant among the earliest human domesticates. The possibility of another center of domestication in the Caucasus region (PHA) is also considered.

Cannabis was transported outside Eurasia in its cultivated forms and reached Africa (drug biotypes) only after 2000 yr BP. The diffusion to the Americas (hemp and drug biotypes) did not occur until 1545 CE and, by 1945 CE, all Cannabis biotypes were already widespread worldwide.

Reference

Rull, V. 2022. Origin, early expansion, domestication and anthropogenic diffusion of Cannabis, with emphasis on Europe and the Iberian Peninsula. Prespectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics, 55: 125670, doi 10.1016/j.ppees.2022.125670.

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Posted in Cannabis, My publications, Sin categoría

A new special issue on forest succession

The journal Forests (JIF 2.364, Q1) is launching a new special issue (SI) entitled Forest Succession: Natural and Anthropogenic Drivers of Ecological Change. The main aim of this SI is to provide an overview of forest successional processes and their main external forcings under a wide spatiotemporal perspective.

The study of forest succession may help to disentangle the effects of natural (climatic) and anthropogenic factors on forested ecosystems, which can be helpful in terms of anticipating future successional trajectories and informing forest conservation.

Biogeographically, all biomes are considered, from coasts to high elevations and from tropical to near-polar latitudes. Chronologically, any temporal scale is contemplated, from short-term ecological studies on living forests to millennial-scale paleoecological surveys using a variety of proxies for forest and environmental reconstruction.

The SI is already open for submission and the deadline for manuscript submission is 30 November 2022. Check the SI website for more information.

Do not hesitate to contact me if you are interested in submitting a manuscript or have any additional questions.

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Posted in Journals, special issues

World’s Top 2% Scientists

Stanford University has recently published an update of the list of the top 2% most widely cited scientists, the World’s Top 2% Scientists. This ranking, considered the most prestigious worldwide, is based on the bibliometric information contained in the Scopus database and includes more than 160,000 researchers from the more than 8 million scientists considered to be active worldwide, with 22 scientific fields and 176 subfields taken into account.

The Stanford ranking is based on a composite citation index (c) that excludes self-citations and considers the position of researchers in the authorship of papers, with emphasis on single, first and last authorship. The same index including self-citations is provided for comparison. The c-scores have been calculated for the period 1996-2020 (career) and also for the year 2020 alone (single year). The full database is available at Mendeley Data (Elsevier).

Now that I am facing the last years of my scientific career it is very encouraging to realize that I have been listed in the World’s Top 2% Scientists, specifically within the top 0.5 %, considering all fields and subfields of research. Regarding specialties, I occupy the number 173 of a total of 19,448 paleontologists and I am among the top-12 palynologists listed in this section, together with outstanding scholars such as John Birks, Keith Bennett, Polychronis Tzedakis, Peter Kershaw, Vera Markgraf or Herbert Wright, just to cite some.

Original reference

Ioannidis, P.A., Boyack, K.W. & Baas, J. 2020. Updated science-wide author databases of standardized citation indicatords. PLOS Biology 18, e3000918.

Latest update

Baas, J., Boyack, K. & Ioannidis, J. 2021. August 2021 data-update for “Updated science-wide autor databases of standradized citation indicators”. Mendeley Data, v3.

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Posted in My publications, Science

Antoni Rosell-Melé

It is very sad to lose a close colleague who is in his scientific prime.

It is also very shameful to realize the poor coverage that local media and scientific institutions, including his own, have devoted to the decease of such a renowned researcher, at an international level.

We live in a parochial country.

Antoni Rosell-Melé: ICREA Research Professor at the Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals (ICTA) of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB). Research group: ImpactANT.
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Posted in People, Science

Is the sixth mass extinction coming?

Does the current anthropogenic biodiversity crisis really qualify as a mass extinction?

Many people now uncritically accept the reality of a sixth mass extinction, but others contend that this is an unrealistic exaggeration by environmental alarmists.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of threatened species contains nearly 140,000 well-documented species, of which 900 have already gone extinct since the year 1500 (Fig. 1) and almost 80 are extinct in the wild.

Figure 1. Taxonomic distribution of the 900 species extinct since 1500 according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The current human-driven biodiversity crisis still does not qualify for a mass extinction in terms of the percentage of extinct species yet, but the current rates of biodiversity loss actually fit within the range of the five major mass extinctions during the Phanerozoic.

The magnitude and the high extinction rates of the current biodiversity crisis seem to have led to an obsession for conserving every living species. However, this is contrary to the natural evolutionary process. Stopping extinction is nonsensical in evolutionary terms and is as unnatural as accelerating it.

Read the full story at:

Rull, V. 2021. Biodiversity crisis or sixth mass extinction? EMBO Reports, e54193.

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Posted in anthropocene, biodiversity, My publications, Society