Dr. Dongmei Jie’s phytolith research team in northeast China

Dr. Dongmei Jie’s phytolith research team in northeast China

Professor Dongmei Jie, who works at Northeast Normal University in China, first read a paper related to phytolith analysis in 2005, which kindled a strong interest in pursuing phytolith research. Over the next five years, she read and collected many relevant papers, and traveled to Beijing to personally consult with Professor Houyuan Lu, the pioneer of phytolith research in China. With full support of the experimental station at Northeast Normal University, Professor Jie first applied phytolith analysis to Leymus chinensis and Phragmites australis in Northeast China, focusing on three aspects: the formation and morphological classification of phytoliths in Leymus chinensis and Phragmites australis; the response of phytoliths in Leymus chinensis and Phragmites australis to simulated elevated global CO2 concentrations, nitrogen deposition, and natural temperature and humidity changes; spatial and temporal distribution differences among phytoliths of Phragmites australis in Northeast China. Based on these studies, Dr. Jie’s team published 13 papers between 2010 and 2017 (1- 13).

Realizing that “a small phytolith contains great knowledge”, Professor Jie extended her vision to the entire Northeast region of China as she systematically explored the potential of phytoliths for reconstructing the paleoenvironment.

The principal aims of Dr. Jie’s research group using phytolith analysis are four-fold:

1. Morphological classification of phytoliths

Morphological identification and classification of phytoliths are the basis of phytolith analysis. Prof. Jie investigated the effects of taxonomy on phytolith morphology by analyzing more than 200 species of plants in Northeast China (14-20) and established criteria for distinguishing herbaceous and woody phytoliths.

2. Indication of soil phytolith

Phytolith representation in soils is skewed by several factors; pre- and post- depositional taphonomy can affect phytolith assemblages retrieved from soils. Professor Jie and her lab studied phytolith production, preservation, and migration and then used soil phytolith assemblage characteristics, based on soil samples from >600 sites covering almost all areas of Northeast China, to identify forest and grassland communities (21-23). Subsequently, by examining the quantitative relationship between the surface plant community phytoliths with its corresponding soil phytolith assemblage, the representation bias of soil phytoliths resulting from differences in yield, preservation, and migration of phytolith morphotypes was assessed and calibrated (24- 28). They then derived quantitative relationships between soil phytolith assemblages and vegetation characteristics (e.g. tree/grass cover, diversity), as well as climatic factors (e.g. annual temperature, annual precipitation) (29-32).

3. Palaeoenvironmental reconstruction

Jie’s team applied phytolith analysis to 12 peat profiles and aeolian soil profiles in Northeast China, quantitatively reconstructing Holocene vegetation dynamics using
phytoliths in both forest and grassland regions and reconstructing the spatial and temporal migration of the forest-grassland ecotone in Northeast China.

4. Archaeological environments

To reconstruct the prehistoric subsistence economies and living environments of ancient people in Northeast China, Dr. Jie’s team identified agricultural crop phytoliths in profiles from several archaeological sites on the Songliao Plain, providing evidence for early agricultural development. In addition, they reconstructed the surrounding environment at these early agricultural sites using phytolith analysis, and explored the response of human activities to environmental changes.

5. Paleofire reconstruction

To study paleofire regimes in Northeast China, Prof. Jie’s team established an identification standard for burned phytolith and developed an index of burned phytoliths to indicate the occurrence of fire events. They then used this index to reconstruct regional and local paleofire regimes in the Greater Khingan Mountains and Changbai Mountains in Northeast China.

Laboratory Team

Prof. Jie Dongmei (Founder) School of Geographical Sciences, Northeast Normal University.
Yang Zhuo, Ph.D. candidate, has titled his thesis: Spatial and Temporal Pattern of Paleovegetation and Its Driving Mechanism in Horqin Sandy Land during Holocene.
Chen Niankang, Ph.D. candidate, has titled his thesis: Vegetation dynamics and climate change since Marine Isotope Stage 3 in northeastern China.
Wei Yuanxiang, Ph.D. candidate, has titled her thesis: Holocene Development and Driving Forces of Pastoralism in the Steppe Region of Northeast China.
Wei Yuanxiang, M.S. candidate, has titled her thesis: Grain Size Characteristic and the Source of Sediments in the Modern Yellow River Delta.
Liao Wanyue, M.S. candidate, has titled her thesis: Environmental significance of phytolith carbon isotopes in Songnen Grassland.
Qian Yutong, M.S. candidate, has titled her thesis: Land cover changes and driving factors in Ji’an area over the past 5000 years based on pollen reconstruction.

Dr.Liu Lidan

Dr. Liu graduated with a PhD in 2017, and works at Hunan Normal University. Her PhD dissertation is titled “Characteristics of Phytolith Transport and Preservation of Typical Soils in Northeast China and Its Application for Palaeoenvironment Reconstruction “. She systematically studies the phytoliths of woody plant species, the relationship between surface vegetation and their corresponding topsoil phytoliths, and uses phytolith analysis to reconstruct palaeovegetation during the Holocene in the mid-subtropical zone of China.

Dr. Liu Hongyan

Dr. Liu graduated with a PhD in 2017, and works at Anyang Normal University. Her PhD dissertation is titled “Research on the distribution of the phytolith in surface soil and the reconstruction of temperature-humidity pattern during the Holocene in Northeast China. “She is working on a project entitled “Phytoliths records of the evolution of paleovegetation and human activities since the Middle Holocene in Yinxu area “.

Dr. Gao Guizai

Dr. Gao Guizai graduated with a PhD in 2019, and works at the School of Geographical Sciences, Northeast Normal University. Her PhD dissertation is titled “Phytolith Reference for Identifying Typical Plant Communities in Northeastern China and Its Implication in Paleovegetation Reconstruction Since the Late glacial Period”. Her major research issues include: 1) Formation, preservation and indication of phytolith;2) Past climate/vegetation dynamics and its driving mechanism; 3) Environmental Archaeology.

Dr. Li Dehui

Dr. Li graduated in 2020, and now at Hebei Normal University. Her PhD dissertation is titled “The Relationship Between Phytolith and Vegetation in Temperate Steppe in China and Quantitative Reconstruction of Paleo-vegetation in Meadow Steppe Since the Late Glacial Period”. Her major research issues include: (1) examining phytoliths from temperate steppe and alpine steppe in China; (2) palaeovegetation and palaeoclimate reconstruction of the steppe region in temperate China; (3) assessing the relationship between human activity and pollen/phytolith in the Taihang Mountains.

Dr. Li Nannan

Dr. Li graduated with a PhD in 2020. He employs multiple proxy-based techniques to reconstruct past climate changes and investigate their impacts on the Earth’s surface. His PhD dissertation, titled “Responses of Vegetation to Past Climate Changes since the Younger Dryas: Investigation from Gushantun Peatland in Northeastern China,” focuses on understanding how vegetation has responded to climate fluctuations since the Younger Dryas period.

Dr. Wang Jiangyong

Dr. Wang has graduated in 2022, and now is working in College of Geography and Remote Sensing Sciences, Xinjiang University. His PhD dissertation is titled “The evolution of human living environment during the Holocene and its influence on prehistoric human activities in the Songliao Plain”. His current research interests include 1) Quaternary environmental evolution in central Asia, 2) Environmental archaeology of the Eurasian steppe belt, 3) Silicon cycling of mountain ecosystems in the continental interior.

Dr. Niu Honghao

Dr. Niu graduated in 2023, and now works at the School of Archaeology, Jilin University. His PhD dissertation is titled “Mid-late Holocene vegetation spacial variations in Songnen grasslands and their response to climate changes”. His expertise is in Paleoecology, Palynology, and Environmental Archaeology.

Dr. Meng Meng

Dr. Meng will receive her doctoral degree in 2024. Her PhD dissertation is titled “Fire history and its driving mechanism in Greater Khingan Mountains during mid-late Holocene”. She is mainly interested in fire history and paleoecology. Her current research interests include 1) Holocene and future changes of wildfire regimes in northeastern China; 2) past climate and vegetation dynamics indicated by pollen and phytolith analysis; 3) climate and fire drivers of past forest vegetation changes.

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