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The ancient forests of La Gomera, Canary Islands, and their sensitivity to environmental change

The ancient forests of La Gomera, Canary Islands, and their sensitivity to environmental change
The ancient forests of La Gomera, Canary Islands, and their sensitivity to environmental change

Garajonay National Park in La Gomera (Canary Islands) contains one of the largest remnant areas of a forest formation once widespread throughout Europe and North Africa. Here, we aim to address the long-term dynamics (the last 9600 cal. years) of the monteverde forest (laurel forest and Morella-Erica heath) located close to the summit of the National Park (1487 m a.s.l.) and determine past environmental and human impacts. We used palaeoecological (fossil pollen, microscopic and macroscopic charcoal) and multivariate ecological techniques to identify compositional change in the monteverde forest in relation to potential climatic and human influences, based on the analysis of a core site at 1250-m elevation. The regional mid-Holocene change towards drier conditions was matched in this system by a fairly rapid shift in representation of key forest elements, with declines in Canarian palm tree (Phoenix canariensis), Canarian willow (Salix canariensis) and certain laurel forest taxa and an increase in representation of the Morella-Erica woody heath. Charcoal data suggest that humans arrived on the island between about 3000 and 1800 years ago, a period of minimal vegetation change. Levels of burning over the last 800 years are among the lowest of the entire 9600 years. Synthesis. A rapid climatic-induced shift of forest taxa occurred 5500 years ago, with a decrease in hygrophilous species in the pollen record. In contrast, we found no evidence of a significant response to human colonization. These findings support the idea that Garajonay National Park is protecting a truly ancient relict, comprising a largely natural rather than cultural legacy.

Canary Islands, Climate change, Forest management, Historical ecology, Holocene, Island ecology, La Gomera, Monteverde, Palaeoecology and land-use history, Quaternary
0022-0477
368-377
Nogué, Sandra
5b464cff-a158-481f-8b7f-647c93d7a034
de Nascimento, Lea
1274af4c-1f12-45cf-82d1-b504d14ef163
Fernández-Palacios, José María
19ceeeb9-77d3-44b4-ac17-2e17eac71c3a
Whittaker, Robert J.
5578f7a4-02f9-4968-9acf-3c9445841af5
Willis, Kathy J.
e3a40387-5912-43e5-9744-692a1e560989
Nogué, Sandra
5b464cff-a158-481f-8b7f-647c93d7a034
de Nascimento, Lea
1274af4c-1f12-45cf-82d1-b504d14ef163
Fernández-Palacios, José María
19ceeeb9-77d3-44b4-ac17-2e17eac71c3a
Whittaker, Robert J.
5578f7a4-02f9-4968-9acf-3c9445841af5
Willis, Kathy J.
e3a40387-5912-43e5-9744-692a1e560989

Nogué, Sandra, de Nascimento, Lea, Fernández-Palacios, José María, Whittaker, Robert J. and Willis, Kathy J. (2013) The ancient forests of La Gomera, Canary Islands, and their sensitivity to environmental change. Journal of Ecology, 101 (2), 368-377. (doi:10.1111/1365-2745.12051).

Record type: Article

Abstract

Garajonay National Park in La Gomera (Canary Islands) contains one of the largest remnant areas of a forest formation once widespread throughout Europe and North Africa. Here, we aim to address the long-term dynamics (the last 9600 cal. years) of the monteverde forest (laurel forest and Morella-Erica heath) located close to the summit of the National Park (1487 m a.s.l.) and determine past environmental and human impacts. We used palaeoecological (fossil pollen, microscopic and macroscopic charcoal) and multivariate ecological techniques to identify compositional change in the monteverde forest in relation to potential climatic and human influences, based on the analysis of a core site at 1250-m elevation. The regional mid-Holocene change towards drier conditions was matched in this system by a fairly rapid shift in representation of key forest elements, with declines in Canarian palm tree (Phoenix canariensis), Canarian willow (Salix canariensis) and certain laurel forest taxa and an increase in representation of the Morella-Erica woody heath. Charcoal data suggest that humans arrived on the island between about 3000 and 1800 years ago, a period of minimal vegetation change. Levels of burning over the last 800 years are among the lowest of the entire 9600 years. Synthesis. A rapid climatic-induced shift of forest taxa occurred 5500 years ago, with a decrease in hygrophilous species in the pollen record. In contrast, we found no evidence of a significant response to human colonization. These findings support the idea that Garajonay National Park is protecting a truly ancient relict, comprising a largely natural rather than cultural legacy.

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More information

Published date: 1 March 2013
Keywords: Canary Islands, Climate change, Forest management, Historical ecology, Holocene, Island ecology, La Gomera, Monteverde, Palaeoecology and land-use history, Quaternary

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 445935
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/445935
ISSN: 0022-0477
PURE UUID: 87e513b1-704b-47f4-8009-f1bf26db9d95
ORCID for Sandra Nogué: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0003-0093-4252

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 14 Jan 2021 19:16
Last modified: 18 Feb 2021 17:25

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Contributors

Author: Sandra Nogué ORCID iD
Author: Lea de Nascimento
Author: José María Fernández-Palacios
Author: Robert J. Whittaker
Author: Kathy J. Willis

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