The history of the low-elevation forest and forest-steppe ecotone on the east side of the Andes is revealed in pollen and charcoal records obtained from mid-latitude lakes. Prior to 15,000 cal yr BP, the vegetation was characterized by steppe vegetation with isolated stands of Nothofagus. The climate was generally dry, and the sparse vegetation apparently lacked sufficient fuels to burn extensively. After 15,000 cal yr BP, a mixture of Nothofagus forest and shrubland/steppe developed. Fire activity increased between 13,250 and 11,400 cal yr BP, contemporaneous with a regionally defined cold dry period (Huelmo/Mascardi Cold Reversal). The early-Holocene period was characterized by an open Nothofagus forest/shrubland mosaic, and fire frequency was high in dry sites and low in wet sites; the data suggest a sharp decrease in moisture eastward from the Andes. A shift to a surface-fire regime occurred at 7500 cal yr BP at the wet site and at 4400 cal yr BP at the dry site, preceding the expansion of Austrocedrus by 1000–1500 yr. The spread of Austrocedrus is explained by a shift towards a cooler and wetter climate in the middle and late Holocene. The change to a surface-fire regime is consistent with increased interannual climate variability and the onset or strengthening of ENSO. The present-day mixed forest dominated by Nothofagus and Austrocedrus was established in the last few millennia.
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