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Safont, E., V. Rull, T. Vegas-Vilarrúbia, E. Montoya, O. Huber, and B. K. Holst (2016), Late Holocene vegetation and fire dynamics on the summits of the Guayana Highlands: The Uei-tepui palynological record, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 455, 33-43, doi: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.05.008.

Abstract

The summits of the tepuis (sandstone table mountains of the Neotropical Guayana region-Guayana Highlands, GH) have been considered valuable for palaeoecological studies due to their pristine nature, which emphasizes the role of natural (i.e. non-human) factors on ecological change. Anthropogenic fires, very frequent in the surrounding Gran Sabana (GS) uplands, have very rarely been documented in the GH, and are therefore not considered an important ecological factor in the high-tepui biome. This paper reports the palynological and charcoal results of a Late Holocene sequence from the summit of Uei-tepui (2104 m elevation), where extensive signs of fire were recently observed. Since ~. 2000 cal yr BP, the landscape of the study site has been dominated by meadows with occasional shrubs and cloud forests, which underwent expansions and contractions driven by climate changes and fire. A major vegetation shift occurred in the mid-18th century, when a sustained increase in local fires favoured the expansion of the low and spreading Cyrilla racemiflora shrublands at the expense of meadows and forests. Uei-tepui fires most probably were the result of human activities and reached the summit under study from the GS uplands through the vegetated slopes that characterize this tepui. The mostly anthropogenic nature of these fires, especially the more recent ones, is supported by the initial occurrence of wetter conditions, and by its coincidence with significant social changes in the GS indigenous populations, mainly the European contact. The emergence of fire as a disturbing agent of the GH biome highlights the need for an effective management plan in the GS uplands, where the vast majority of present-day fires originate, and designed in collaboration with the indigenous communities. Proactive conservation measures are considered even more important under future warming projections in the area

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