Investigation of pollination pathways in the Savanna Biome of the Kruger National Park, South Africa - a potential tool for the interpretation of Holocene Fossil Pollen Archivesby

Ndlovu, Nikiwe
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Southern Africa has a rich fossil heritage in sediments of different ages (McCarthy & Rubidge 2005). Important steps in human evolution and cultural development were identified, these evolutionary changes were often influenced by palaeoecological changes especially during the Quaternary (Scott and Neumann 2018, Mitchell 2002 and Parkington et al. 2013). Palaeoecologists aim to reconstruct environmental fluctuations that influence evolutionary changes of the ecosystem over time (Rull 2010 and Rull 1990), using several methods like isotope analysis, sedimentological analysis, faunal investigation and archaeobotanical investigations which include pollen, charcoal and phytolith analyses (Scott et al. 2015). Palynology is the analysis of organic-walled microfossils including pollen and spores (Erdtman 1963); it is a well-tested method to investigate vegetation changes and to deduct climate fluctuations as well as human impact (compare Rull 2010). Plants use diverse pollen transportation pathways, e.g., wind, water, insects, birds, mammals, and reptiles (Kevan et al. 2013) and for this reason, the use of palynology for palaeoecological reconstruction often falls short of the understanding of pollen-vegetation pathways (Duffin and Bunting 2008). The form of pollen transportation, the quantity of pollen production and the distance over which the pollen may be dispersed varies considerably between species (Duffin and Bunting 2008). Understanding these pathways and their contributing factors such as pollen production is important for a reliable interpretation of Quaternary pollen archives (Duffin and Bunting 2008). Pollen assemblage richness, diversity and evenness have been used by many palynologists as a proxy for past plant richness, by utilising rarefaction analysis-based on pollen stratigraphical data to determine and reconstruct past vegetations (Simberloff 1978, Heck et al. 1975, and Birks et al. 2016). Pollen diversity and abundance in honey samples have also been used by melissopalynologists as a proxy to determine the geographical and botanical origins of the honey (Dustmann and Von der Ohe 1993, Johannsmeier 2016). Melissopalynology is the study of pollen in nectar which is collected to make honey (Dustmann and Von der Ohe 1993, Johannsmeier 2016). Honey therefore is hypothesised to be a pollen assemblage archive that can be used to contribute to the understanding of the pollen-vegetation relationship. This idea will be explored later in the melissopalynology chapter (1.2.) ...
A thesis submitted to the School of Geosciences, Faculty of Science, University of the Witwatersrand, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree Master of Science (Palaeontology), 2022