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Forest–savanna–morichal dynamics in relation to fire and human occupation in the southern Gran Sabana (SE Venezuela) during the last millennia

  • Encarni Montoya (a1) (a2), Valentí Rull (a1), Nathan D. Stansell (a3), Mark B. Abbott (a4), Sandra Nogué (a1) (a5), Broxton W. Bird (a3) and Wilmer A. Díaz (a6)...

The southern Gran Sabana (SE Venezuela) holds a particular type of neotropical savanna characterized by the local occurrence of morichales (Mauritia palm swamps), in a climate apparently more suitable for rain forests. We present a paleoecological analysis of the last millennia of Lake Chonita (4°39′N–61°0′W, 884 m elevation), based on biological and physico-chemical proxies. Savannas dominated the region during the last millennia, but a significant vegetation replacement occurred in recent times. The site was covered by a treeless savanna with nearby rainforests from 3640 to 2180 cal yr BP. Water levels were higher than today until about 2800 cal yr BP. Forests retreated since about 2180 cal yr BP onwards, likely influenced by a higher fire incidence that facilitated a dramatic expansion of morichales. The simultaneous appearance of charcoal particles and Mauritia pollen around 2000 cal yr BP supports the potential pyrophilous nature of this palm and the importance of fire for its recent expansion. The whole picture suggests human settlements similar to today – in which fire is an essential element – since around 2000 yr ago. Therefore, present-day southern Gran Sabana landscapes seem to have been the result of the synergy between biogeographical, climatic and anthropogenic factors, mostly fire.

Corresponding author
Corresponding author at: Palynology and Palaeoecology Lab, Botanical Institute of Barcelona (CSIC-ICUB), Passeig del Migdia s/n, 08038 Barcelona, Spain. E-mail address: (E. Montoya).
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Quaternary Research
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