, Volume 19, Issue 5-6, pp 409-426
Date: 14 Jan 2010

Late Holocene land-use and vegetation dynamics in an upland karst region based on pollen and coprophilous fungal spore analyses: an example from the Burren, western Ireland

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Abstract

The late Holocene environmental history of two karstic uplands in the Burren, western Ireland is reconstructed. The palaeoecological investigations focus on species-rich, upland plant communities of high biogeographic interest that include Sesleria-dominated grasslands and heath communities with Dryas octopetala, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and Empetrum nigrum. Short monoliths taken from shallow peats were pollen analytically investigated. Particular attention was paid to non-pollen palynomorphs, and especially coprophilous fungal spores as indicators of environmental change and pastoral activity at local level. The exposed north-west Burren uplands carried Pinus sylvestris-dominated woodland during the mid and late Bronze Age. The demise of pine on these uplands at ca. 600 B.C. is ascribed to human impact. Evidence is presented for increased pastoral activity in the uplands from early medieval times (ca. sixth century A.D.) onwards. Farming, involving intensive grazing of the uplands, attained greatest intensity during the late 18th and early 19th century, and resulted in more or less total clearance of Corylus scrub which, prior to that, was common in both the upland and lowland Burren. The potential of non-pollen palynomorphs and especially the coprophilous fungal spore record for elucidating traditional Burren farming practices, including winterage (a type of transhumance), is highlighted.

Communicated by Jean Nicolas Haas.