Early anthropogenic impact on Western Central African rainforests 2,600 y ago

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2018
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Garcin, Yannick
Deschamps, Pierre
Ménot, Guillemette
de Saulieu, Geoffroy
Schefuß, Enno
Sebag, David
Dupont, Lydie M.
Oslisly, Richard
Brademann, Brian
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A potential human footprint on Western Central African rainforests before the Common Era has become the focus of an ongoing controversy. Between 3,000 y ago and 2,000 y ago, regional pollen sequences indicate a replacement of mature rainforests by a forest-savannah mosaic including pioneer trees. Although some studies suggested an anthropogenic influence on this forest fragmentation, current interpretations based on pollen data attribute the ''rainforest crisis'' to climate change toward a drier, more seasonal climate. A rigorous test of this hypothesis, however, requires climate proxies independent of vegetation changes. Here we resolve this controversy through a continuous 10,500-y record of both vegetation and hydrological changes from Lake Barombi in Southwest Cameroon based on changes in carbon and hydrogen isotope compositions of plant waxes. δ13C-inferred vegetation changes confirm a prominent and abrupt appearance of C4 plants in the Lake Barombi catchment, at 2,600 calendar years before AD 1950 (cal y BP), followed by an equally sudden return to rainforest vegetation at 2,020 cal y BP. δD values from the same plant wax compounds, however, show no simultaneous hydrological change. Based on the combination of these data with a comprehensive regional archaeological database we provide evidence that humans triggered the rainforest fragmentation 2,600 y ago. Our findings suggest that technological developments, including agricultural practices and iron metallurgy, possibly related to the large-scale Bantu expansion, significantly impacted the ecosystems before the Common Era.

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570 Biowissenschaften, Biologie
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Western Central Africa, late Holocene, rainforest crisis, paleohydrology, human activity
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ISO 690GARCIN, Yannick, Pierre DESCHAMPS, Guillemette MÉNOT, Geoffroy DE SAULIEU, Enno SCHEFUSS, David SEBAG, Lydie M. DUPONT, Richard OSLISLY, Brian BRADEMANN, Laura S. EPP, 2018. Early anthropogenic impact on Western Central African rainforests 2,600 y ago. In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America : PNAS. 2018, 115(13), pp. 3261-3266. ISSN 0027-8424. eISSN 1091-6490. Available under: doi: 10.1073/pnas.1715336115
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@article{Garcin2018Early-45130,
  year={2018},
  doi={10.1073/pnas.1715336115},
  title={Early anthropogenic impact on Western Central African rainforests 2,600 y ago},
  number={13},
  volume={115},
  issn={0027-8424},
  journal={Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America : PNAS},
  pages={3261--3266},
  author={Garcin, Yannick and Deschamps, Pierre and Ménot, Guillemette and de Saulieu, Geoffroy and Schefuß, Enno and Sebag, David and Dupont, Lydie M. and Oslisly, Richard and Brademann, Brian and Epp, Laura S.}
}
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    <dcterms:abstract xml:lang="eng">A potential human footprint on Western Central African rainforests before the Common Era has become the focus of an ongoing controversy. Between 3,000 y ago and 2,000 y ago, regional pollen sequences indicate a replacement of mature rainforests by a forest-savannah mosaic including pioneer trees. Although some studies suggested an anthropogenic influence on this forest fragmentation, current interpretations based on pollen data attribute the ''rainforest crisis'' to climate change toward a drier, more seasonal climate. A rigorous test of this hypothesis, however, requires climate proxies independent of vegetation changes. Here we resolve this controversy through a continuous 10,500-y record of both vegetation and hydrological changes from Lake Barombi in Southwest Cameroon based on changes in carbon and hydrogen isotope compositions of plant waxes. δ&lt;sup&gt;13&lt;/sup&gt;C-inferred vegetation changes confirm a prominent and abrupt appearance of C4 plants in the Lake Barombi catchment, at 2,600 calendar years before AD 1950 (cal y BP), followed by an equally sudden return to rainforest vegetation at 2,020 cal y BP. δD values from the same plant wax compounds, however, show no simultaneous hydrological change. Based on the combination of these data with a comprehensive regional archaeological database we provide evidence that humans triggered the rainforest fragmentation 2,600 y ago. Our findings suggest that technological developments, including agricultural practices and iron metallurgy, possibly related to the large-scale Bantu expansion, significantly impacted the ecosystems before the Common Era.</dcterms:abstract>
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