Humans take control of fire-driven diversity changes in Mediterranean Iberia’s vegetation during the mid–late Holocene

Simon E. Connor, Boris Vannière, Daniele Colombaroli, R. Scott Anderson, José S. Carrión, Ana Ejarque, Graciela Gil Romera, Penélope González-Sampériz, Dana Hoefer, César Morales-Molino, Jordi Revelles, Heike Schneider, Willem O. van der Knaap, Jacqueline F.N. van Leeuwen, Jessie Woodbridge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Fire regime changes are considered a major threat to future biodiversity in the Mediterranean Basin. Such predictions remain uncertain, given that fire regime changes and their ecological impacts occur over timescales that are too long for direct observation. Here we analyse centennial- and millennial-scale shifts in fire regimes and compositional turnover to track the consequences of fire regime shifts on Mediterranean vegetation diversity. We estimated rate-of-change, richness and compositional turnover (beta diversity) in 13 selected high-resolution palaeoecological records from Mediterranean Iberia and compared these with charcoal-inferred fire regime changes. Event sequence analysis showed fire regime shifts to be significantly temporally associated with compositional turnover, particularly during the last three millennia. We find that the timing and direction of fire and diversity change in Mediterranean Iberia are best explained by long-term human–environment interactions dating back perhaps 7500 years. Evidence suggests that Neolithic burning propagated a first wave of increasing vegetation openness and promoted woodland diversity around early farming settlements. Landscape transformation intensified around 5500 to 5000 cal. yr BP and accelerated during the last two millennia, as fire led to permanent transitions in ecosystem state. These fire episodes increased open vegetation diversity, decreased woodland diversity and significantly altered richness on a regional scale. Our study suggests that anthropogenic fires played a primary role in diversity changes in Mediterranean Iberia. Their millennia-long legacy in today’s vegetation should be considered for biodiversity conservation and landscape management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)886-901
Number of pages16
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2019


  • Iberian Peninsula
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • charcoal
  • paleofire
  • pollen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Archaeology
  • Ecology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Palaeontology


Dive into the research topics of 'Humans take control of fire-driven diversity changes in Mediterranean Iberia’s vegetation during the mid–late Holocene'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this