From pristine forests to high-altitude pastures: an ecological approach to prehistoric human impact on vegetation and landscapes in the western Italian Alps
Document Type: Journal
Author(s): R. Pini ; C. Ravazzi ; L. Raiteri ; A. Guerreschi ; L. Castellano ; R. Comolli
Publication Year: 2017

Cataloging Information

  • Alpine Iceman
  • archaeology
  • C14-dating
  • central Europe
  • central Swiss Alps
  • dung fungi
  • fire frequency
  • glacier fluctuations
  • Holocene climatic oscillations
  • Italy
  • landscape ecology
  • nutrients
  • palaeoecology and land-use history
  • pastoralism
  • phosphorus
  • pollen
  • species richness
  • stratigraphy
  • subalpine forests
  • tree-line
  • International
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 1, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 55708
Tall Timbers Record Number: 33782
TTRS Location Status: Not in file
TTRS Call Number: Available
TTRS Abstract Status: Fair use

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy 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 the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


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. Palaeoecological and geochemical techniques were applied on the Crotte Basse mire stratigraphy (2365 m a.s.l, northwestern Italy) to describe changes in vegetation composition, forest biomass, land use and fertilization between c. 6400-1800 cal years BP. 3. Subalpine forests dominated by Pinus cembra occurred at very high-altitude up to c. 5600 cal years 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 (c. 5600 cal years BP). The change may have been reinforced by climate variability in the period 5700-5300 cal years BP. 5. Sensitivity of woody species to fires was statistically explored (AppendixS1, Supporting Information), revealing negative reactions of P.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. Fallere 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, palaeoecological information and pollen-based temperature reconstructions sheds light on the relationships between climate and humans since prehistoric times. © 2017 The authors. Journal of Ecology © 2017 British Ecological Society

Online Link(s):
Pini, R., C. Ravazzi, L. Raiteri, A. Guerreschi, L. Castellano, and R. Comolli. 2017. From pristine forests to high-altitude pastures: an ecological approach to prehistoric human impact on vegetation and landscapes in the western Italian Alps. Journal of Ecology, v. 105, no. 6, p. 1580-1597. 10.1111/1365-2745.12767.