The air around us is full of microscopic particles, including the pollen grains and spores of a huge number of plants and trees – as anyone who has suffered from hay fever will tell you! Of course, the type of pollen found in the air depends on the plants and trees that are present in the landscape. As each type of pollen grain or spore is unique to an individual plant species, it is possible to reconstruct a landscape’s vegetation characteristics based on the pollen released into the air.
All these pollen images are composite 3D images using a dark-field microscope. Photo credits: Mark Grosvenor
You may be familiar with the yellowish film of ‘dust’ that sometimes appears on cars in the summer. This is often largely made up of pollen that has been produced by nearby trees, to enable pollination and reproduction in the warm summer months. Pollen doesn’t just land on cars though – it’s just easier to see when it does! In truth, this airborne pollen eventually settles out and lands on whatever is below – peat bogs included!
We have already discussed how peat bogs accumulate over time. As we focus our analysis down through a peat core, through the thousands of years this represents, we see changes in the patterns of pollen we find – each layer we analyse effectively provides a ‘snapshot’ of the vegetation that was around at that time. For bogologists, these snapshots give us an idea of how the environment and landscape may have changed over time – changes that may have been caused by climate, humans and even disease! To find out a bit more, why not check out this blog post.