Disentangling anthropogenic and natural drivers of change in vegetation and fire history along the forest-grassland ecotones of the central United States and Patagonia
Nanavati, William Parashar
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Disentangling anthropogenic and natural drivers of vegetation and fire history at different spatiotemporal scales is a fundamental challenge in Earth Systems science. To better understand the role of past human ignition in altering long-term ecosystem dynamics, we rely on the anthropogenic fire regime conceptual model proposed by Guyette et al. (2002) in the central U.S. Ozarks. The synthesis of new and existing pollen and charcoal records, and their integration with archaeological, ethnographic, and independent paleoclimate records is used to test the anthropogenic fire regime conceptual model at a longer time scale in the central U.S. Ozarks. Following its validation, this conceptual model is applied to the forest-steppe ecotone east of the Patagonian Andes (38-55°S) for the first time. Although it is well established that Patagonian vegetation and fire history for most of the postglacial period was governed by the strength and position of the Southern Westerly Wind (SWW) storm tracks, the influence of land use since the arrival of American Indians to the region ~12,000 years ago remains unclear. From the late glacial to early Holocene, region-wide increases in fire were associated with aridity while the SWW were weakened and south of their present position. Between ~7000-4000 cal yr BP, increased arboreal taxa and decreased fire throughout Patagonia suggest wet conditions as the SWW moved northward to their present position. After ~4000 cal yr BP, a combination of increased land use and greater climate variability, led to spatially heterogeneous but generally rising fire activity along the forest-steppe ecotone. When trends in the vegetation and fire history of individual sites are compared to each other and to the archaeological record, however, it becomes apparent that American Indians may have served as an important source of ignition, locally increasing landscape heterogeneity since their arrival. During the last 100 years, increased Euro-American settlement and land clearance in Patagonia led to native forest loss, more disturbance, and the spread of introduced taxa along the eastern flanks of the Andes. These ecological changes in the recent century far outweigh thousands of years of American Indian influence on fire and vegetation history.