Investigating the palaeoecology and palaeoenvironment of an area or a site is not as simple as studying extant and current ecology and environment. Principally because it is not there anymore. But as we have seen from the Devonian geology of West Cork, every environment leaves some signs, and if these traces survive, we can use them to reconstruct at least part of the ecology and environment from that time. These traces act as proxies for the conditions and environment that we wish to understand.
Such proxies can take many forms, and in fact some of them are not necessarily from the location of the site that is being studied.
This project however will make use of fossilised remains of organisms - principally plants and animals but in the case of some spores and microbes, these fall outside the conventional classification of the kingdoms of plant and animal. Chief among these proxies are pollen grains, spores, diatoms, phytoliths and some other remains of micro-organisms. Identification of the fossilised remains requires the use of scientific equipment, at the very least a microscope, and various preparation techniques. Essential in the process is the ability to refer to reference collections, examples of the proxies that have been collected and positively identified from modern living specimens. The ability to identify the fossilised remains is a skill acquired over time, and the analysis of samples is a time consuming business, but the result is an index of species and genera that were present in a sample. And by examining samples from sequences through time, an idea of how the species list changed, and maybe an understanding of the causes of such changes, can be achieved.
The listings on the right of this screen are links to pages of images of reference specimens collected, prepared, and photographed by me. These will be added to as the project progresses.
The species and genera listed - particularly as regards the plants represented by the pollen - are principally native Irish species, that is those that are known to have colonised Ireland after the last glacial maximum. As the region was freed from ice, and the climate improved, plants and animals returned by various means. This was a natural process of recolonisation. When humans came to Ireland further plants and animals were introduced, either deliberately or as stowaway passengers. It is hard to be sure in the case of some species whether they existed elsewhere and the pollen or spores blew in on the wind, whether they were introduced by human agency, or whether they were indeed present naturally, but in very low numbers, and thus not obvious members of the native list. But the fact is that if the proxies are found within a sample, they must be accounted for from that time.