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Soil charcoal analysis: a reliable tool for spatially precise studies of past forest dynamics: a case study in the French southern Alps

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JournalThe Holocene
DatePublished - Feb 2010
Issue number1
Volume20
Number of pages8
Pages (from-to)45-52
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This paper presents and discusses the use of soil charcoal analysis (pedoanthracology) to reconstruct past forest dynamics in a larch forest of the upper Guil valley (French Alps, Queyras). We also discuss the role of anthropogenic fire in forest dynamics. The radiocarbon dates from this site demonstrate that arolla pine (Pinus cembra) and larch were present in the area since 7566-7673 cal. BP and 5934-6123 cal. BP, respectively. The identification of a piece of charcoal to fir (Abies alba) dated to 5734-5908 cal. BP suggests that this species was present at 1980 m a.s.l. since c. 6000 cal. BP and had a higher ecological tolerance than previously assumed. The cover of larch forests has increased since the second half of the Holocene because of anthropogenic practices (eg, clearing with fire, cattle grazing). However, today, owing to the abandonment of pastoral practices, the arolla pine has become dominant, which greatly modifies the forest structure and the landscape.

    Research areas

  • Charcoal analysis, Holocene, Larix decidua, Pinus cembra, French Alps, subalpine stage, TREE-LIMIT, TEMPERATE FORESTS, MAURIENNE-VALLEY, EARLY HOLOCENE, WOOD CHARCOAL, HAUTES-ALPES, FIRE HISTORY, VEGETATION, LANDSCAPE, NORTH

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