Articles | Volume 12, issue 6
Research article
15 Jun 2016
Research article |  | 15 Jun 2016

Environmental changes, climate and anthropogenic impact in south-east Tunisia during the last 8 kyr

Sahbi Jaouadi, Vincent Lebreton, Viviane Bout-Roumazeilles, Giuseppe Siani, Rached Lakhdar, Ridha Boussoffara, Laurent Dezileau, Nejib Kallel, Beya Mannai-Tayech, and Nathalie Combourieu-Nebout

Abstract. Pollen and clay mineralogical analyses of a Holocene sequence from Sebkha Boujmel (southern Tunisia) trace the climatic and environmental dynamics in the lower arid bioclimatic zone over the last 8000 years. During the mid- to late Holocene transition, between ca. 8 and 3 ka BP, a succession of five wet–dry oscillations is recorded. An intense arid event occurs between ca. 5.7 and 4.6 ka BP. This episode marks the onset of a long-term aridification trend with a progressive retreat of Mediterranean woody xerophytic vegetation and of grass steppes. It ends with the establishment of pre-desert ecosystems around 3 ka BP. The millennial-scale climate change recorded in the data from Sebkha Boujmel is consistent with records from the south and east Mediterranean, as well as with climatic records from the desert region for the end of the African Humid Period (AHP). Eight centennial climatic events are recorded at Sebkha Boujmel and these are contemporary with those recorded in the Mediterranean and in the Sahara. They indicate a clear coupling between the southern Mediterranean and the Sahara before 3 ka BP. The event at 4.2 ka BP is not evidenced and the link between events recorded in Sebkha Boujmel and the North Atlantic cooling events is clearer from ca. 3 ka BP onwards. These variations indicate the importance of climatic determinism in the structuring of landscapes, with the establishment of the arid climatic conditions of the late Holocene. It is only from ca. 3 ka BP onwards that the dynamic of plant associations is modified by both human activity and climatic variability. The climatic episodes identified during the historic period indicate strong regionalisation related to the differential impact of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and the Mediterranean Oscillation (MO) on the Mediterranean Basin. The local human impact on regional ecosystems is recorded in the form of episodes of intensification of pastoral and/or agricultural activities. The development of olive production and of several taxa associated with agriculture attest to increasing sedentism among human populations during classical antiquity. The significant increase in Artemisia (wormwood) between ca. 1.1 and 0.8 ka BP (850–1150 AD) is linked to intensive pastoral activity, associated with heightened interannual and/or seasonal climatic instability. A complete reshaping of the landscape is recorded during the 20th century. The remarkable expansion of the olive tree, and the deterioration of regional ecosystems with the spread of desert species, is linked to recent local socio-economic changes in Tunisia.

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