Across North and South America, the final millennia of the Pleistocene saw dramatic changes in climate, vegetation, fauna, fire regime, and other local and regional paleo-environmental characteristics. Rapid climate shifts following the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) exerted a first-order influence, but abrupt post-glacial shifts in vegetation composition, vegetation structure, and fire regime also coincided with human arrival and transformative faunal extinctions in the Americas. We propose a model of post-glacial vegetation change in response to climatic drivers, punctuated by local fire regime shifts in response to megaherbivore-driven fuel changes and anthropogenic ignitions. The abrupt appearance of humans, disappearance of megaherbivores, and resulting changes in New World fire systems were transformative events that should not be dismissed in favor of climate-only interpretations of post-glacial paleo-environmental shifts in the Americas. Fire is a mechanism by which small human populations can have broad impacts, and growing evidence suggests that early anthropogenic influences on regional, even global, paleo-environments should be tested alongside other potential causal mechanisms.
Quaternary Science Reviews – Elsevier
Published: Feb 1, 2011
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