Up Close: Piecing together the puzzle of past landscapes
Have you ever wondered how we know how the landscape, forest, and climate have changed over millennia? The answer is “proxy” data, which can be used as direct indicators of the past. For example, we can use preserved pollen in lake sediment to tell us about what types of plants were present hundreds of thousands of years ago. There are many types of proxies, ranging from chemical, physical, or biological. Each proxy is like a small puzzle piece; when connected to other types of proxies they help complete the puzzle so we can better see and understand what the past was like. The Quaternary Environments lab at the museum looks at preserved plant material as proxies of past landscapes. We also look at modern pollen to learn more about Alberta’s grasslands and native plants. Come and learn about the diversity of pollen and plant macrofossils, and how they and other proxies gathered from ice patches, lake sediment, pollinators, and mountain caves, can help us learn about Alberta’s past.
Diana Tirlea has worked as the Assistant Curator of Quaternary Environments at the Royal Alberta Museum since December 2012. She maintains the diverse collections including the Seed, Pollen and Tephra Reference Collections. Her research primarily focuses on the reconstruction of past landscapes in the Canadian Rocky Mountains during the past 12,000 years. She also works with modern samples, including counting 1000’s of pollen grains recovered from rangeland pollinators, such as bees and flies, to better understand pollination interactions in the prairies. Aside from working in the mountains, Diana has backpacked in the mountains for over 20 years and enjoys mountain photography and painting mountain wildflowers.