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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Virginia Iglesias; Cathy L. Whitlock
Publication Date: 2014

Forest/steppe boundaries are among the most dynamic ecosystems on Earth and are highly vulnerable to changes in climate and land use. In this study we examine the postglacial history of the Patagonian forest/steppe ecotone (41-43°S) to better understand its sensitivity to past variations in climate, disturbance, and human activity before European colonization. We present regional trends in vegetation and biomass burning, as detected by generalized additive models fitted to seven pollen and charcoal records, and compare the results with other paleoenvironmental data, as well as archeological and ecological information to (i) estimate postglacial fire trends at regional scales, (ii) assess the evolution of climate-vegetation-fire linkages over the last 18,000 calibrated (cal) years B.P., and (iii) evaluate the role of humans in altering pre-European landscapes and fire regimes. Pollen and charcoal data indicate that biomass burning was relatively low during warm/dry steppe-dominated landscapes in the late glacial/Early Holocene transition and increased as more humid conditions favored forest development after ca. 10,000 cal years B.P. Postglacial fire activity was thus limited by fuel availability associated with sparse vegetation cover rather than by suitable climate conditions. In contrast to extensive burning by European settlers, variations in indigenous population densities were not associated with fluctuations in regional or watershed-scale fire occurrence, suggesting that climate-vegetation-fire linkages in northern Patagonia evolved with minimal or very localized human influences before European settlement.

Online Links
Citation: Iglesias, Virginia; Whitlock, Cathy L. 2014. Fire responses to postglacial climate change and human impact in northern Patagonia (41-43°S). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111(51):E5545-E5554.

Cataloging Information

  • anthropogenic fire
  • Argentina
  • biomass burning
  • charcoal
  • climate change
  • disturbance
  • ecotones
  • fire frequency
  • fire intensity
  • fire management
  • fire regimes
  • fire size
  • forest management
  • grasslands
  • human impact
  • Patagonia
  • Peru
  • pollen
  • vegetation surveys
  • wildfires
Tall Timbers Record Number: 31159Location Status: Not in fileCall Number: AvailableAbstract Status: Okay, Fair use, Reproduced by permission
Record Last Modified:
Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 18796

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by Tall Timbers and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of Tall Timbers.