Late Holocene vegetation changes in relation with climate fluctuations and human activity in Languedoc (southern France)
Abstract. Holocene climate fluctuations and human activity since the Neolithic have shaped present-day Mediterranean environments. Separating anthropogenic effects from climatic impacts to better understand Mediterranean paleoenvironmental changes over the last millennia remains a challenging issue. High-resolution pollen analyses were undertaken on two cores from the Palavasian lagoon system (Hérault, southern France). These records allow reconstruction of vegetation dynamics over the last 4500 years. Results are compared with climatic, historical and archeological archives. A long-term aridification trend is highlighted during the late Holocene, and three superimposed arid events are recorded at 4600–4300, 2800–2400 and 1300–1100 cal BP. These periods of high-frequency climate variability coincide in time with the rapid climatic events observed in the Atlantic Ocean (Bond et al., 2001). From the Bronze Age (4000 cal BP) to the end of the Iron Age (around 2000 cal BP), the spread of sclerophyllous taxa and loss of forest cover result from anthropogenic impact. Classical Antiquity is characterized by a major reforestation event related to the concentration of rural activity and populations in coastal plains leading to forest recovery in the mountains. A major regional deforestation occurred at the beginning of the High Middle Ages. Around 1000 cal BP, forest cover is minimal while the cover of olive, chestnut and walnut expands in relation to increasing human influence. The present-day vegetation dominated by Mediterranean shrubland and pines has been in existence since the beginning of the 20th century.