4200 years of pine-dominated upland forest dynamics in west-central Mexico: human or natural legacy?
Figueroa-Rangel BL., Willis KJ., Olvera-Vargas M.
The pine-dominated forests of west-central Mexico are internationally recognized for their high biodiversity, and some areas are protected through various conservation measures including prohibition of human activity. In this region, however, there is evidence for human settlement dating back to ca. AD 1200. It is therefore unclear whether the present forest composition and structure are part of a successional stage following use by indigenous human populations during the past, or due to natural processes, such as climate. We present a study reconstructing the vegetation dynamics of pine-dominated forest over the past 4200 years using paleoecological techniques. Results from fossil pollen and charcoal indicate that, in this region, pine-dominated forests are the native vegetation type and not anthropogenically derived secondary succession. The predominant driving mechanism for the expansion of pine-dominated forest appears to be intervals of aridity and naturally induced burning. A close association is noted between pine abundance and longer-term climatic trends, including intervals of aridity between ca. 4200 and 2500, 1200 and 850, and 500 and 200 cal yr BP and shorter-term trends. Evident periodicity occurs in pine and Poaceae abundance every 80 years. These short-term quasi-periodic oscillations have been recorded in a number of lake and ocean sediments in Mexico and are thought to be linked to solar forcing resulting in drought cycles that occur at approximately the same time intervals.