GSA Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington, USA - 2017

Paper No. 375-6
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM


IVORY, Sarah, Department of Anthropology, Ohio State University, 4060 Smith Laboratory, Columbus, OH 43201 and RUSSELL, James M., Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912,

Vegetation history in Africa is generally assumed to be strongly related to climate. Over the last 60ka, the transition from glacial aridity to increased moisture in much of northern and equatorial Africa led to widespread forest expansion; however, forests in southeastern Africa do not appear to have changed dramatically during arid periods associated with high-latitude cooling, suggesting a more complex biogeographic history on long time-scales.

Here we present analyses of fossil pollen, charcoal, and Sporormiella (dung fungus) on a 60kyr record from central Lake Tanganyika, southeast Africa, which illustrate the interplay of climate and disturbance regimes in shaping vegetation composition and structure. We observe that forests dominated the region during the last glacial period despite decreased rainfall. At the end of the glacial, forest opening at ~17.5 ka followed warming temperatures but preceded wetting, suggesting that water stress and disturbance from fire and herbivory affected initial landscape transformation. Our Sporormiella record indicates that mega-herbivore populations increased in the early Holocene. This higher animal density increased plant species richness and encouraged landscape heterogeneity until the mid-Holocene. At this time, regional drying followed by the onset of the Iron Age in the late Holocene resulted in expansion of thicket, more open woodland, and disturbance taxa that still characterize the landscape today.

Finally, although this work has important implications for the understanding the future distribution of lowland and highland forests, longer records covering multiple glacial-interglacial cycles are needed to fine-tune our understanding of climate and ecological drivers of biogeographic patterns. As Lake Tanganyika sits at the modern day nexus of forest-woodland ecotone and we demonstrate that it can yield important long-term paleoecological insights, we suggest that the lake is an ideal target for future scientific drilling to better understand African vegetation history and its implications.