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Title: Late Holocene fire and vegetation reconstruction from the western Klamath Mountains, California, USA: a multi-disciplinary approach for examining potential human land-use impacts

Author: Crawford, J. N.; Mensing, S. A.; Lake, Frank; Zimmerman, S. R.;

Date: 2015

Source: The Holocene. 25(8): 1341-1357

Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Description: The influence of Native American land-use practices on vegetation composition and structure has long been a subject of significant debate. This is particularly true in portions of the western United States where tribal hunter-gatherers did not use agriculture to meet subsistence and other cultural needs. Climate has been viewed as the dominant determinant of vegetation structure and composition change over time, but ethnographic and anthropological evidence suggests that Native American land-use practices (particularly through the use of fire) had significant landscape effects on vegetation. However, it is difficult to distinguish climatically driven vegetation change from human-caused vegetation change using traditional paleoecological methods. To address this problem, we use a multidisciplinary methodology that incorporates paleoecology with local ethnographic and archaeological information at two lake sites in northwestern California. We show that anthropogenic impacts can be distinguished at our Fish Lake site during the cool and wet ‘Little Ice Age’, when we have evidence for open-forest or shade-intolerant vegetation, fostered for subsistence and cultural purposes, rather than the closed-forest or shade-tolerant vegetation expected due to the climatic shift. We also see a strong anthropogenic influence on modern vegetation at both sites following European settlement, decline in tribal use, and subsequent fire exclusion. These results demonstrate that Native American influences on vegetation structure and composition can be distinguished using methods that take into account both physical and cultural aspects of the landscape. They also begin to determine the scale at which western forests were influenced by Native American land-use practices and how modern forests of northwestern California are not solely products of climate alone.

Keywords: Anthropogenic impacts, California, fire history, forest structure, Klamath Mountains, vegetation change

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Crawford, J. N.; Mensing, S. A.; Lake, F. K.; Zimmerman, S. R. 2015. Late Holocene fire and vegetation reconstruction from the western Klamath Mountains, California, USA: a multi-disciplinary approach for examining potential human land-use impacts. The Holocene. 25(8): 1341-1357.

 


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