Rachael Holmes, Postgraduate Researcher

Tracing the Legacy of Human-induced Transformation of the Biosphere in Island Southeast Asia

Rachael HolmesContact Details

Project Overview

My research interests centre around past human-environment interactions and how archaeological and palaeoecological perspectives can inform contemporary and future approaches to adapting to a changing world.

The “Anthropocene,” is currently an informal term that refers to the current period in the history of the planet in which direct and indirect human influence has transformed the Earth. The current rate and scale of change appears to be unprecedented in the geological record. Understanding how ecosystems have changed because of both environmental and human impacts is essential for predicting how they will adapt in the future. Palaeoecology (or the study of past environments) draws on several disciplines including ecology, geology and archaeology, to extend our knowledge of landscape dynamics into the deep past – beyond the timeframe of modern and historic records. My PhD research draws on these disciplines to produce data that can be used to both understand when the Anthropocene began as well as address some of the key socio-ecological challenges of the period.

Rachael on fieldwork in Southeast Asia

I focus on the region of Island Southeast Asia and tackling two key challenges:

  1. the spread and impact of non-native naturalized plant species and
  2. improving the success of mangrove ecosystems restoration projects.

I work with digital archives and botanical datasets as well as a range of palaeoecological proxies (i.e. pollen, spheroidal carbonaceous particles, phytoliths, microcharcoal etc.) and place these data in historical and archaeological context.

Research Theme

Evolution and Past Environments

Research Questions

On naturalized plant species:

  1. What are the main drivers of spatial and temporal patterns of naturalized plant species in Malesia?
  2. Has human-induced translocation of naturalized plant species led to the homogenization or differentiation of the Malesian flora?

On mangrove response to sea-level change and restoring mangrove habitats:

  1. What is the legacy of past anthropogenic impact on mangrove forest in North Sulawesi?
  2. How has local sea-level fluctuated since the mid-Holocene high-stand in Island Southeast Asia?
  3. How have mangroves in North Sulawesi developed in response to past sea-level change and how will they respond in the future?
  4. What ecological “baselines” should be used when measuring the success of mangrove restoration projects?


Popular Science Articles:


  • Russell, C., Waters, C., Himson, S., Holmes, R., Burns, A., Zalasiewicz, J., Williams, M. 2021. Geological Evolution of the Mississippi River into the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene Review. Accepted.
  • C. Stimpson, S. O’Donnell, Nguyen T.M.H., R. Holmes, B. Utting, T. Kahlert & R. Rabett, 2020. Confirmed archaeological evidence of water deer in Vietnam: relics of the Pleistocene or a shifting baseline? Royal Society Open Science 8: 210529. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.210529
  • S. O’Donnell, N.T.M. Huong, C. Stimpson, R. Holmes, T. Kahlert, E. Hill, V. Thuy & R. Rabett, 2020. Holocene development and human use of mangroves and limestone forest at an ancient hong lagoon in the Tràng An karst, Ninh Binh, Vietnam. Quaternary Science, Rev. 242: 106416. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2020.106416
  • R. Rabett, F. Coward, R. Holmes, I. Bachtsevanidou Strantzali, E. Green, E. Hill, T. Kahlert, C. Kelly, M. McAllister, S. O’Donnell, S. Pyne-O’Donnell, A. Redmond, C. Stimpson, Nguyen D.T., Tran T.V., Bui V.M., N. Ludgate, R. Macleod, B. Utting, Nguyen C.T., Nguyen T.H., Nguyen T.M.H., Nguyen T.L., Sinh P.K., Truong, T.Q.T., Vu D.L., Vu T.L., Vu T.L, Tran, T.K.Q., M. Verhoeven, 2018. Human adaptation to coastal evolution: Late Quaternary evidence from Southeast Asia (SUNDASIA) – A report on the second year of the project. Vietnam Archaeology 13: 23-49.

Academic Awards

  • University of Leicester; School of Geography, Geology and the Environment Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion Prize 2021
  • Bournemouth University; Faculty of Science and Technology Best Undergraduate Student Prize, 2017/18

Further Links

The Anthropocene Biosphere in Indonesia

Palaeoecology in Trang An, Vietnam

Lake coring at Mire Loch, Scotland

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