Articles | Volume 9, issue 1
Research article
16 Jan 2013
Research article |  | 16 Jan 2013

Climate, people, fire and vegetation: new insights into vegetation dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean since the 1st century AD

J. Bakker, E. Paulissen, D. Kaniewski, J. Poblome, V. De Laet, G. Verstraeten, and M. Waelkens

Abstract. Anatolia forms a bridge between Europe, Africa and Asia and is influenced by all three continents in terms of climate, vegetation and human civilisation. Unfortunately, well-dated palynological records focussing on the period from the end of the classical Roman period until subrecent times are rare for Anatolia and completely absent for southwest Turkey, resulting in a lacuna in knowledge concerning the interactions of climatic change, human impact, and environmental change in this important region. Two well-dated palaeoecological records from the Western Taurus Mountains, Turkey, provide a first relatively detailed record of vegetation dynamics from late Roman times until the present in SW Turkey. Combining pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs, charcoal, sedimentological, archaeological data, and newly developed multivariate numerical analyses allows for the disentangling of climatic and anthropogenic influences on vegetation change. Results show changes in both the regional pollen signal as well as local soil sediment characteristics match shifts in regional climatic conditions. Both climatic as well as anthropogenic change had a strong influence on vegetation dynamics and land use. A moist environmental trend during the late-3rd century caused an increase in marshes and wetlands in the moister valley floors, limiting possibilities for intensive crop cultivation at such locations. A mid-7th century shift to pastoralism coincided with a climatic deterioration as well as the start of Arab incursions into the region, the former driving the way in which the vegetation developed afterwards. Resurgence in agriculture was observed in the study during the mid-10th century AD, coinciding with the Medieval Climate Anomaly. An abrupt mid-12th century decrease in agriculture is linked to socio-political change, rather than the onset of the Little Ice Age. Similarly, gradual deforestation occurring from the 16th century onwards has been linked to changes in land use during Ottoman times. The pollen data reveal that a fast rise in Pinus pollen after the end of the Beyşehir Occupation Phase need not always occur. The notion of high Pinus pollen percentages indicating an open landscape incapable of countering the influx of pine pollen is also deemed unrealistic. While multiple fires occurred in the region through time, extended fire periods, as had occurred during the Bronze Age and Beyşehir Occupation Phase, did not occur, and no signs of local fire activity were observed. Fires were never a major influence on vegetation dynamics. While no complete overview of post-BO Phase fire events can be presented, the available data indicates that fires in the vicinity of Gravgaz may have been linked to anthropogenic activity in the wider surroundings of the marsh. Fires in the vicinity of Bereket appeared to be linked to increased abundance of pine forests. There was no link with specifically wet or dry environmental conditions at either site. While this study reveals much new information concerning the impact of climate change and human occupation on the environment, more studies from SW Turkey are required in order to properly quantify the range of the observed phenomena and the magnitude of their impacts.