Records of past animals and human ecosystem manipulation

February 28, 2017

vhaHaving recently become an Associate Editor for Vegetation History & Archaeobotany I have decided that I will try and highlight a couple  papers from the journal each months which have caught my attention. My first selections are:

  • A study which demonstrated the close relationship between the fossil fungal spore record and historical accounts (Orbay-Cerrato et al., 2017).
  • An investigation of a human modification of ecosystems on the sub-tropical Pacific island of New Caledonia using fossil wood charcoal remains (Dotte-Sarout, 2017)

For more detailed thoughts on these papers read on…

Orbay-Cerrato et al. (2017): The potential to use fungal non-pollen palynomorph (NPPs) to infer past environmental change has been established for many years (van Geel, 1972); however, the use of fungal NPPs has become something of a hot topic over the last few years with an increased use of dung fungus to explore mega-faunal extinctions (van der Kaars et al., 2017), indicate the human adoption of herding practices (Williams et al., 2011), and in an attempt to quantify past abundances of animals in landscapes (Baker et al., 2016). The paper by Orbay-Cerrato et al. is a rare example of a palaeoecological study that can be closely linked to historical records and describes a close correspondence between Sordaria sp. and cattle ranching in New England (USA) since c. AD 1400, a nice validation of the close link between the abundance of fossil dung fungus and human activity.

Dotte-Sarout (2017): The colonisation of the Pacific is of particular interest to me at the moment as I have recently become involved in a project with Prof. David Sear, and others, at the University of Southampton to  work on sediment cores from Samoa. The research presented by Dotte-Sarout provides an interesting new insight into how people may have manipulated ecosystems on the Pacific islands during the pre-colonial period. Dotte-Sarout suggests that a humans on the New Caledonia may have practiced arboriculture for c. 2000 years prior to the development of the Kanak cultural complex around AD 1000.


Baker, A.G., Cornelissen, P., Bhagwat, S.A., Vera, F.W.M. & Willis, K.J. (2016) Quantification of population sizes of large herbivores and their long-term functional role in ecosystems using dung fungal spores. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 7, 1273-1281. doi: 10.1111/2041-210X.12580

Dotte-Sarout, E. (2017) Evidence of forest management and arboriculture from wood charcoal data: An anthracological case study from two New Caledonia Kanak pre-colonial sites. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 26, 195-211. doi: 10.1007/s00334-016-0580-0

van Geel, B. (1972) Palynology of a section from the raised peat bot of ‘Wietmarscher Moor’, with special refernence to the fungal remains. Acta Botanica Neerlandica 21, 261-284. doi: 10.1111/j.1438-8677.1972.tb00779.x

van der Kaars, S., Miller, G.H., Turney, C.S.M., Cook, E.J., Nurnberg, D., Schonfeld, J., Kershaw, A.P. & Lehman, S.J. (2017) Humans rather than climate the primary cause of Pleistocene megafaunal extinction in Australia. Nature Communications 8, 14142. doi: 10.1038/ncomms14142

Orbay-Cerrato, M., Oswald, W.W., Doughty, E.D., Foster, D.R. & Hall, B.R. (2017) Historic grazing in southern New England, USA, recorded by fungal spores in lake sediments. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 26, 159-165. doi: 10.1007/s00334-016-0577-8

Williams, J.J., Gosling, W.D., Coe, A.L., Brooks, S.J. & Gulliver, P. (2011) Four thousand years of environmental change and human activity in the Cochabamba Basin, Bolivia. Quaternary Research 76, 58-69. doi: 10.1016/j.yqres.2011.03.004

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