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Taming Fogo Island: Late-Holocene volcanism, natural fires and land use as recorded in a scoria-cone sediment sequence in Cabo Verde

Taming Fogo Island: Late-Holocene volcanism, natural fires and land use as recorded in a scoria-cone sediment sequence in Cabo Verde
Taming Fogo Island: Late-Holocene volcanism, natural fires and land use as recorded in a scoria-cone sediment sequence in Cabo Verde

Cabo Verde remained uninhabited until 1460 CE, when European sailors founded a settlement in Santiago, and soon after in Fogo island. The degree to which different island ecosystems in Cabo Verde have been transformed by humans remains uncertain because of a scarcity of historical information and archaeological evidence. Disentangling these processes from natural ones is complicated in islands with a history of volcanic impacts and other natural hazards. In this paper, we apply microfossil (pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs and phytoliths) and sedimentological analyses (granulometry, X-ray diffraction, loss on ignition and tephrostratigraphy) to a 2-m sediment sequence deposited in a scoria cone from 4100 cal year BP (calibrated years before 1950 CE) to the present. The organic-rich basal sediments indicate that between 4100 and 2600 cal year BP the pre-settlement landscape of Fogo was an open grassland, where fire was infrequent and/or small-scale. An increase in volcanic glass deposition after 2600 cal year BP, peaking ca. 1200 cal year BP, suggests that there was a progressive activation of Fogo’s volcanic activity, contemporaneous with increased fire frequency and erosion pulses, but with little impact on local grassland vegetation. While dating uncertainty is high, the first evidence of intensive local land use by early settlers was in the form of cultivation of Zea mays, abundant spores of coprophilous fungi (i.e. Sporormiella), and peaks in charcoal concentrations between 800 and 400 cal year BP. This was followed by large increases in pollen from pigeon pea (Cajanus), a diverse array of exotic trees (Cupressus, Grevillea), and invasive shrubs (Lantana). The introduction of these taxa is part of recent human effort to ‘tame’ this steep, dry and hazardous island by reducing erosion and providing firewood. An important outcome of these efforts, however, is a loss of fragile native biodiversity.

Holocene, Island palaeoecology, culture-environment interactions, fire, volcanism
0959-6836
371-381
Castilla-Beltrán, Alvaro
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Monteath, Alistair
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Jensen, Britta J.L.
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de Nascimento, Lea
5bb40153-b7a1-495e-b0ac-302307b930b7
Fernández-Palacios, José María
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Strandberg, Nichola Ann
a583f84b-1ba7-48dc-9c12-28d6ad279d1f
Edwards, Mary
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Nogué, Sandra
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Castilla-Beltrán, Alvaro
f5e694c1-0f7e-4263-8e94-a0fe932dafce
Monteath, Alistair
51195e1e-5ac5-4845-a4fc-e9f86862a2db
Jensen, Britta J.L.
49e0fb6f-0858-4aa5-954d-b6bfbf236092
de Nascimento, Lea
5bb40153-b7a1-495e-b0ac-302307b930b7
Fernández-Palacios, José María
94464d8e-4695-4942-af72-1fd91d0b1624
Strandberg, Nichola Ann
a583f84b-1ba7-48dc-9c12-28d6ad279d1f
Edwards, Mary
4b6a3389-f3a4-4933-b8fd-acdfef72200e
Nogué, Sandra
5b464cff-a158-481f-8b7f-647c93d7a034

Castilla-Beltrán, Alvaro, Monteath, Alistair, Jensen, Britta J.L., de Nascimento, Lea, Fernández-Palacios, José María, Strandberg, Nichola Ann, Edwards, Mary and Nogué, Sandra (2023) Taming Fogo Island: Late-Holocene volcanism, natural fires and land use as recorded in a scoria-cone sediment sequence in Cabo Verde. The Holocene, 33 (4), 371-381. (doi:10.1177/09596836221145442).

Record type: Article

Abstract

Cabo Verde remained uninhabited until 1460 CE, when European sailors founded a settlement in Santiago, and soon after in Fogo island. The degree to which different island ecosystems in Cabo Verde have been transformed by humans remains uncertain because of a scarcity of historical information and archaeological evidence. Disentangling these processes from natural ones is complicated in islands with a history of volcanic impacts and other natural hazards. In this paper, we apply microfossil (pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs and phytoliths) and sedimentological analyses (granulometry, X-ray diffraction, loss on ignition and tephrostratigraphy) to a 2-m sediment sequence deposited in a scoria cone from 4100 cal year BP (calibrated years before 1950 CE) to the present. The organic-rich basal sediments indicate that between 4100 and 2600 cal year BP the pre-settlement landscape of Fogo was an open grassland, where fire was infrequent and/or small-scale. An increase in volcanic glass deposition after 2600 cal year BP, peaking ca. 1200 cal year BP, suggests that there was a progressive activation of Fogo’s volcanic activity, contemporaneous with increased fire frequency and erosion pulses, but with little impact on local grassland vegetation. While dating uncertainty is high, the first evidence of intensive local land use by early settlers was in the form of cultivation of Zea mays, abundant spores of coprophilous fungi (i.e. Sporormiella), and peaks in charcoal concentrations between 800 and 400 cal year BP. This was followed by large increases in pollen from pigeon pea (Cajanus), a diverse array of exotic trees (Cupressus, Grevillea), and invasive shrubs (Lantana). The introduction of these taxa is part of recent human effort to ‘tame’ this steep, dry and hazardous island by reducing erosion and providing firewood. An important outcome of these efforts, however, is a loss of fragile native biodiversity.

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Accepted/In Press date: 20 October 2022
Published date: April 2023
Additional Information: Funding Information: The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research was carried out under two main research grants: Juan de la Cierva - Formación Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (FJC2020-043774-I), and +3 Geography PhD grant (2017–2020), both awarded to Alvaro Castilla-Beltrán. We thank the Association of Environmental Archaeology for funding our expedition to Fogo Island through a Small Research Grant (2019) awarded to ACB. Basal RC data was funded under NERC RC date award (2203.1019). Funding Information: We thank the vital help and guidance during fieldwork of Herculano Dinis, director of Projecto Vitó (CEPF-funded project), geographers José Luis Correira and Adilson Pina Gonçalves (staff of Projecto Vitó), and student volunteer Tiago Alves Gomes. We thank SUERC for funding the Radiocarbon dating of the basal sample (Grant no. 2203.1019). Jordan Harvey and Chris Hayward kindly helped to prepare samples for EPMA at the University of Alberta and the University of Edinburgh. Publisher Copyright: © The Author(s) 2023.
Keywords: Holocene, Island palaeoecology, culture-environment interactions, fire, volcanism

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Local EPrints ID: 475461
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/475461
ISSN: 0959-6836
PURE UUID: 75a26c7c-adeb-4e8f-9c35-7fd07c189875
ORCID for Nichola Ann Strandberg: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0003-1268-2080
ORCID for Mary Edwards: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-3490-6682
ORCID for Sandra Nogué: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0003-0093-4252

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Date deposited: 20 Mar 2023 17:36
Last modified: 09 Sep 2023 01:53

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Contributors

Author: Alvaro Castilla-Beltrán
Author: Alistair Monteath
Author: Britta J.L. Jensen
Author: Lea de Nascimento
Author: José María Fernández-Palacios
Author: Mary Edwards ORCID iD
Author: Sandra Nogué ORCID iD

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