Impact of a drier Early-Mid-Holocene climate upon Amazonian forests

Francis Mayle, M. J. Power

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This paper uses a palaeoecological approach to examine the impact of drier climatic conditions of the Early-Mid-Holocene (ca 8000-4000 years ago) upon Amazonia's forests and their fire regimes. Palaeovegetation (pollen data) and palaeofire (charcoal) records are synthesized from 20 sites within the present tropical forest biome, and the underlying causes of any emergent patterns or changes are explored by reference to independent palaeoclimate data and present-day patterns of precipitation, forest cover and fire activity across Amazonia. During the Early-Mid-Holocene, Andean cloud forest taxa were replaced by lowland tree taxa as the cloud base rose while lowland ecotonal areas, which are presently covered by evergreen rainforest, were instead dominated by savannahs and/or semi-deciduous dry forests. Elsewhere in the Amazon Basin there is considerable spatial and temporal variation in patterns of vegetation disturbance and fire, which probably reflects the complex heterogeneous patterns in precipitation and seasonality across the basin, and the interactions between climate change, drought-and fire susceptibility of the forests, and Palaeo-Indian land use. Our analysis shows that the forest biome in most parts of Amazonia appears to have been remarkably resilient to climatic conditions significantly drier than those of today, despite widespread evidence of forest burning. Only in ecotonal areas is there evidence of biome replacement in the Holocene. From this palaeoecological perspective, we argue against the Amazon forest 'dieback' scenario simulated for the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1829-1838
Number of pages10
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume363
Issue number1498
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2008

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