Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 371–387 | Cite as

Mid- and late-Holocene vegetation and fire history at Biviere di Gela, a coastal lake in southern Sicily, Italy

  • Roland Noti
  • Jacqueline F. N. van Leeuwen
  • Daniele Colombaroli
  • Elisa Vescovi
  • Salvatore Pasta
  • Tommaso La Mantia
  • Willy TinnerEmail author
Original Article


The vegetation and fire history of few coastal sites has been investigated in the Mediterranean region so far. We present the first paleoecological reconstruction from coastal Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. We analysed pollen and charcoal in the sediments of Biviere di Gela, a lake (lagoon) on the south coast of Sicily. Our data suggest that the area became afforested after a marine transgression at ca. 7200 cal b.p. (5250 b.c.). Build-up of forest and shrublands took ca. 200–300 years, mainly with the deciduous trees Quercus, Ostrya and Fraxinus. Juniperus expanded ca. 6900 cal b.p. (4950 b.c.), but declined again 6600 cal b.p. (4650 b.c.). Afterwards, evergreen trees (Q. ilex-type and Olea) became dominant in the forest and Pistacia shrublands were established. Forest and shrubland reached a maximum ca. 7000–5000 cal b.p. (5050–3050 b.c.); subsequently forest declined in response to human impact, which was probably exacerbated by a general trend towards a more arid climate. During the Neolithic, fire was used to open the landscape, significantly reducing several arboreal taxa (Q. ilex, Fraxinus, Juniperus) and promoting herbs and shrubs (Achillea, Cichorioideae, Brassicaceae, Ephedra). Final forest disruption occurred around 2600 cal b.p. (650 b.c.) with the onset of the historically documented Greek colonization. We conclude that the open maquis and garrigue vegetation of today is primarily the consequence of intensive land-use over millennia. Under natural or near-natural conditions arboreal taxa such as Q. ilex, Olea and Pistacia would be far more important than they are today, even under the hot and rather dry coastal conditions of southern Sicily.


Charcoal analysis Pollen analysis Evergreen forest Human impact Mediterranean Quercus ilex Olea europaea 



We thank Brigitta Ammann for supporting this study and Florencia Oberli for laboratory work. We are grateful to Emilio Giudice (LIPU) for the support he gave us during the drilling campaign and the coring permits, to Pim (W.O.) van der Knaap for work on the manuscript, and to Herbert E. Wright, Jr. for linguistic corrections. Improvements of the manuscript through suggestions and corrections by the reviewers Freddy Damblon and Boris Vannière as well as by the editors Jacques-Louis de Beaulieu and Felix Bittmann are gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roland Noti
    • 1
  • Jacqueline F. N. van Leeuwen
    • 1
  • Daniele Colombaroli
    • 1
    • 2
  • Elisa Vescovi
    • 1
    • 3
  • Salvatore Pasta
    • 4
  • Tommaso La Mantia
    • 5
  • Willy Tinner
    • 1
    • 6
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute of Plant Sciences and Oeschger Centre for Climate Change ResearchUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.Environmental Change Research Group, Department of GeographyUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA
  3. 3.C.N.R., Institute of Environmental Dynamics (I.D.P.A.)DalmineItaly
  4. 4.PalermoItaly
  5. 5.Department of Arboreal CulturesUniversity of PalermoPalermoItaly
  6. 6.Institute of Terrestrial EcosystemsETH ZurichZürichSwitzerland

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