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The impact of climate and land-use changes on the most southerly fir forests (Abies pinsapo) in Europe

Alba-Sánchez, Francisca, López-Sáez, José Antonio, Abel-Schaad, Daniel, Sabariego Ruiz, Silvia, Pérez-Díaz, Sebastián, González-Hernández, Antonio, Linares, Juan Carlos
TheHolocene 2019 v.29 no.7 pp. 1176-1188
Abies pinsapo, Holocene epoch, climate, climate change, dry environmental conditions, endangered ecosystems, forest ecology, forest management, forests, fossils, industry, intensive forestry, land use change, models, pollen, species diversity, Iberian Peninsula
Current knowledge of climate change effects on forest ecology and species conservation should be linked to understanding of the past-time. Abies pinsapo forests constitute a model of an endangered ecosystem, highly vulnerable to ongoing warming, whose populations have been declining for centuries, while the drivers of this local depletion trend remain poorly understood. We hypothesized that long-term disturbances, both human- and natural-induced, have shaped A. pinsapo forests, contributing to these decline processes. Until today, studies using fossil pollen record to identify past climate impacts and land-use changes on A. pinsapo populations have not been done. Here, we investigate forests’ dynamics since the late Holocene (1180 cal. AD to present) in Southern Iberian Peninsula from a fossil pollen record by comparing the results obtained with climate fluctuations and land-uses changes. The pollen sequence shows a phase of stability during the Islamic Period (~1180–1400 cal. AD; ‘Medieval Climate Anomaly’), followed by increasing degradation at Christian Period concurrent with ‘Little Ice Age’ (LIA) (ca. 1487–1530 cal. AD). The Modern Period (1530–1800 cal. AD; LIA) is linked to intensive forest management, related to the naval industry. Afterwards, a progressive reduction is recorded during the Contemporary Age period (‘Industrial Period’) until ‘Recent Warming’. In short, historical severe forest management coupled with increasing aridity since LIA appear to influence A. pinsapo forest current species composition and poor structural diversity. These disturbances might be limiting the resilience of A. pinsapo forests under a climate change scenario. A selected forest management could promote a more complex forest structure.