A Holocene record of savanna vegetation dynamics in southern lowland Papua New Guinea

Cassandra Rowe, Bruno David, Jerome Mialanes, Sean Ulm, Fiona Petchey, Samantha Aird, Ian J. McNiven, Matthew Leavesley, Thomas Richards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

The southern lowlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG) are biogeographically distinct. Vast tracts of savanna vegetation occur there and yet most palaeoecological studies have focused on highlands and/or forest environments. Greater focus on long-term lowland environments provides a rare opportunity to understand and promote the significance of local and regional savannas, ultimately allowing non-forested and forested ecosystem dynamics to be compared. This paper examines palaeoecological and archaeological data from a lowland open savanna site situated on the south-central PNG coastline. The methods used incorporate pollen and micro-charcoal analyses, artefact recovery and sediment descriptions. We conclude with an environmental model of sedimentation and vegetation change for the past c. 5,800 years, revealing a mid to late Holocene savanna interchange between herbaceous and woody plant growth, with fluctuating fire occurrence increasing toward the present day. Increased silt deposition and modified regional hydrology are also recorded. Environmental changes correspond in timing with the start of permanent settlements and human use of fire. In particular, landscape burning for hunting and gardens for agriculture have helped create the open ecosystem still evident today.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalVegetation History and Archaeobotany
Volume29
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Keywords

  • Archaeology
  • Holocene
  • Lowland
  • Palaeoecology
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Savanna

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