Paper No. 168-9
Presentation Time: 3:15 PM
LATE PLEISTOCENE AND HOLOCENE FIRE HISTORY OF THE CALIFORNIA CHANNEL ISLANDS
Charcoal has been recovered from a range of late Pleistocene and Holocene sites on Santa Cruz Island and Santa Rosa Island, both islands part of California’s Northern Channel Islands, U.S.A. Sediments have been dated using radiocarbon measurements based on wood charcoal, fungal sclerotia, glassy carbon and fecal pellets and are given as calendar years BP. This charcoal has been used to interpret the fire history of the Islands. Charcoal assemblages from samples dating from 24,690 to 12,900 years are dominated by coniferous wood charcoal. Little angiosperm charcoal was recovered in any of the samples. Fungal sclerotia are frequent in a number of samples from a range of ages both on Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa. Fecal pellets are common in most samples and abundant in others. Some of the fecal pellets have hexagonal sides and are likely to represent termite frass. The sediments are fluvial in origin and the distribution of charcoal is irregular making interpretation of fire return intervals and fire frequency difficult. The charcoal indicates a significant record of fire before the earliest documented human arrival on the islands. Charcoal reflectance data shows the occurrence of predominantly low temperature charcoals suggesting common surface fires in the coniferous forest. Soledad Pond sediments from Santa Rosa Island dating from 11,800 cal years BP show a distinctively different vegetation dominated by angiosperms and showing a very different fire history. Pinus stands, coastal sage scrub dominated by Baccharis sp. and grassland replaced the conifer forest as the climate warmed. The early Holocene became increasingly drier, particularly after ca. 9150 cal yr BP. By ca. 6900 cal yr BP grasslands recovered. Introduction of non-native species by ranchers occurred subsequent to AD 1850. Charcoal influx is high early in the Soledad Pond record, but declines during the early Holocene when minimal biomass suggests extended drought. A general increase occurs after ca. 7000 cal yr BP, and especially after ca. 4500 cal yr BP. The Holocene pattern closely resembles population levels constructed from the archaeological record, and suggests a potential influence by humans on the fire regime of the islands, particularly during the late Holocene.