Prehistoric fires and the shaping of colonial transported landscapes in southern California: A paleoenvironmental study at Dune Pond, Santa Barbara County

Ana Ejarque, R. Scott Anderson, Alexander R. Simms, Beau J. Gentry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Using a novel combination of paleoecologic proxies including pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs (NPPs), macroscopic charcoal, and Spheroidal Carbonaceous Particles (SCPs), 5000 years of landscape change, fire history and land-use have been reconstructed from Dune Pond, Santa Barbara County, California. The pond was sensitive to Holocene regional climatic variability, showing different phases of lower (4600-3700calyrBP, 2100-700calyrBP, historical period) and higher (3700-2100calyrBP, 700-150calyrBP) local moisture availability. During this period the landscape was dominated by a coastal mosaic vegetation including dune mats, coastal scrub and salt marshes on the dunes and backdunes, with chaparral and oak woodland growing in the valley plains and foothills. Fire was intimately linked with such dominating mosaic vegetation, and the combination of wet conditions and the presence of nearby human settlement were a trigger favoring coastal fires for at least two periods: from 3100 to 1500calyrBP and from 650calyrBP until the 18th century. In both cases fire was an important tool to keep an open coastal landscape attractive to hunting wildlife. Finally, matching this varied range of high-resolution paleoecological proxies with historical records we could characterize the development of colonial transported landscapes following the Euro-American settlement of Santa Barbara. The introduction of livestock grazing by Spanish colonists favored erosive processes and the introduction of fecal-borne parasites in freshwater bodies, negatively impacted salt and brackish coastal marshes, and promoted the invasion of alien grasses and ruderals. This agro-pastoral landscape was consolidated during the American period, with a greater role for cultivation, the development of industrial activities and increased population. Despite negative environmental consequences such as the loss of native habitats, exotic land-uses and plants introduced during the historical period significantly contributed to the configuration of a cultural landscape which forms part of the cultural heritage of California.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-196
Number of pages16
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - Mar 5 2015


  • California
  • Colonial transported landscapes
  • Fire history
  • Non-pollen palynomorphs
  • Pollen
  • Spheroidal Carbonaceous Particles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Geology


Dive into the research topics of 'Prehistoric fires and the shaping of colonial transported landscapes in southern California: A paleoenvironmental study at Dune Pond, Santa Barbara County'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this