This week, I am delighted to introduce Dr Yoshi Maezumi, a palaeoecologist currently working at the University of Amsterdam! Yoshi is a Marie-Curie Fellow and National Geographic explorer, currently working on a project called: “FIRE: Fire Intensity in Rainforest Ecotones”. Her research involves applying interdisciplinary approaches and methodologies to advance our understanding of long-term natural and anthropogenic paleoecological variability in the Neotropics. Yoshi also writes a blog called “Her Science”, which documents her experiences, adventures, and inspirations as a woman in science!
What are your research interests and your particular area of expertise?
I study human impacts on past and present ecosystems using an interdisciplinary methodology combining archaeology, archaeobotany, palaeoecology, and palaeoclimatology. While my primary research centers on past crop cultivation, agroforestry, and fire management in the Amazon and Caribbean, I am also involved with diverse collaborative projects utilizing similar multiproxy datasets to address questions of human-environment interactions in the United States, British Isles, Mediterranean, and Australia.
What originally drew you towards palaeoecology?
I started University as a dance major. However, after a bad car accident that ended my professional dancing aspirations, I decided to go to college to be an Archaeologist. I completed a double BA in Anthropological Archaeology and Religious Studies. During this time I conducted archaeological fieldwork in Jordan, Italy, Spain, and throughout the US. I completed a MA in Analytical Archaeology at CSU Long Beach. While conducting fieldwork in Guatemala, I had the opportunity to collect my first sediment cores in the mangroves near El Baul archaeological site and became increasingly interested in past human impacts on the environment. As I was learning palaeoecological proxies during my Masters, I went to train in charcoal analysis with Dr. Mitchell J. Power at the University of Utah who later became my PhD Supervisor.
What was your PhD topic and what were the findings from your PhD?
My PhD topic was: Climate, Vegetation, and Fire Linkages in the Bolivian Amazon. During my PhD, I used multi-proxy analytical techniques to reconstruct long-term natural and anthropogenic drivers of palaeoecological change in the Bolivian Amazon. My research represented the first long-term palaeoecological study from the Amazon cerrado savanna ecosystem.
After your PhD, where have you worked? Where has been your favourite place to work?
Following my PhD, I held a 3-year Post-doctoral Research Fellowship at the University of Exeter, UK with Prof. Jose Iriarte. During my post-doc, I began to integrate my training in archaeology and palaeoecology to examine past human land use as a driver of ecological change. Implementing an interdisciplinary approach combining palaeoecology, archaeology, archaeobotany, palaeoclimatology and botany, our team published one of the first multidisciplinary, high-resolution reconstructions of past human land use and fire management in the Amazon.
Following my post-doc, I held a one-year Lectureship position at the University of the West Indies teaching courses in Palaeoclimatology and Environmental Change. During this time, I was awarded an Early Career National Geographic Grant for my project Jamaica a Last Island Frontier. This project investigates the impact of human colonization on island biodiversity and fire activity on the island. Jamaica is one of my favorite places in the world. The people are warm and friendly, the research potential is extraordinary, and the surf is excellent.
What current projects are you working on at the University of Amsterdam? Where do you hope these go in the future?
Currently, my Marie Curie funded project FIRE: Fire Intensity in Rainforest Ecotones, investigates the role of ancient fire management in shaping the Bolivian rainforest-savanna boundary. Fire intensity (the maximum temperature of a fire) is a key component of post-fire recovery, however to date there is not a way to reconstruct fire intensity in past fire events. My Marie Curie research is aimed at developing a state-of-the-art method using Fourier-Transform InfraRed (FTIR) spectroscopy to chemically analyse fossil charcoal to provide the first proxy to reconstruct past fire intensity. This research will be used to evaluate long-term ecological impacts of past indigenous fire use.
I am starting the job hunt for a permanent position. My “dream-job” will enable me to continue my interdisciplinary research program and integrate this methodology into my teaching curriculum to train the next generation of interdisciplinary scientists.
What advice would you give to a student interested in your field of research?
I think one of the things that opened-up the most doors for me was networking. I know not all students will have this luxury because of financial circumstances, but in each stage of my education, I was willing to pay out of pocket to travel to meet researchers I wanted to work with and attend workshops on things I wanted to learn that were not offered in my home department. This was how I met both my PhD and Post-doc supervisors and I met my current mentor, Dr. Will Gosling at a conference (the OSM/YSM meeting in Spain). We brainstormed the idea for my current Marie Curie project over coffee during that meeting. Additionally I applied for every little pool of funding I could to help pay for my research and travel to conferences. Small grants for two hundred dollars here and five hundred dollars there really builds up over time and looks great on your CV.
What do you think has been the most revolutionary discovery in human evolution studies over the last 5 years?
Environmental DNA. To me, its like a paleoecology time machine sprinkled with unicorn magic (I joke). But seriously, the advances in ancient DNA over the past few years has revolutionized our understanding of the palaeorecord.
If you were not an palaecologist, what would you be?
I taught yoga for about 10 years (one of my jobs in grad school). I would love to continue teaching yoga if I was not a scientist. I think I almost have enough free time to start teaching yoga again, so maybe I’ll get to do both!
To contact Yoshi:
Research Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/S_Maezumi2