Skip to main content
Dryad logo

Data from: From pristine forests to high-altitude pastures: an ecological approach to prehistoric human impact on vegetation and landscapes in the western Italian Alps

Citation

Pini, Roberta et al. (2017), Data from: From pristine forests to high-altitude pastures: an ecological approach to prehistoric human impact on vegetation and landscapes in the western Italian Alps, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.3jm3s

Abstract

1. This paper addresses the origin and development of the oldest prehistoric pasture in the timberline ecotone known so far in the Alps and its relation to anthropogenic pressure and natural climate change. 2. Paleoecological and geochemical techniques were applied on the Crotte Basse mire stratigraphy (2365 m asl, western Italy) to describe changes in vegetation composition, forest biomass, land use and fertilization between ca. 6400 - 1800 yrs cal BP. 3. Subalpine forests dominated by Pinus cembra occurred at very high-altitude up to ca. 5600 yrs cal BP, when a sharp contraction of woody vegetation took place. This major vegetation shift is matched by increasing charcoal input and markers of pastoral/grazing activities (pollen, dung spores, and forms of phosphorus) in the sediment sequence in this small basin. 4. Major phases of landscape change detected in our multiproxy record chronologically match intervals of cumulative probability density of 14C ages from nearby archaeological sites, suggesting that human activity was the factor leading to massive landscape change from the onset of the Copper Age (ca. 5600 yrs cal BP). The change may have been reinforced by climate variability in the period 5700 - 5300 years cal BP. 5. Sensitivity of woody species to fires was statistically explored (Appendix S3 in Supporting Information), revealing negative reactions of Pinus cembra and Betula to frequent fire episodes and positive reactions of Alnus viridis and Juniperus. Fire episodes do not affect Larix dynamics. 6. Synthesis: Mt. Fallère provides some of the oldest and consistent evidence so far available in the Alps for major anthropogenic pressure at the upper forest limit. As far back as 5600 cal years BP, high-elevation forest ecosystems were permanently disrupted and the alpine pastures were created. Palaeoecological data enable a clear distinction between a random and sporadic use of the alpine space, typical for Mesolithic and Neolithic societies, and an organized seasonal exploitation of natural resources, starting from the Copper Age onwards. The chronological comparison of independent climate proxies, paleoecological information and pollen-based temperature reconstructions sheds light on the relationships between climate and humans since prehistoric times.

Usage Notes

Location

northwestern Italian Alps