Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 21, Issue 4–5, pp 373–384 | Cite as

Holocene treeline changes on the south slope of the Pyrenees: a pedoanthracological analysis

  • Raquel CunillEmail author
  • Joan-Manuel Soriano
  • Marie-Claude Bal
  • Albert Pèlachs
  • Ramon Pérez-Obiol
Original Article


The principal objective of this research is to determine the maximum elevation reached by the treeline, as well as its altitudinal variations and composition throughout the Holocene, in a high mountain zone of the Pyrenean range. The temporal intervals of pedoanthracological data begin in 11000 cal. b.p. with the oldest dated charcoal, permitting a study of the entire Holocene period with the capacity to analyze climatic and anthropic situations. This is the first study to apply analysis of soil charcoals to the meridional slope of the Pyrenees for this purpose, and also its first use in research on the Iberian Peninsula. Eight pedoanthracological sites were sampled in a transect from 2,000 to 2,600 m altitude, with an altitudinal resolution of 100 m. The spatial precision provided by this proxy allows us to show that the maximum extension of the upper forest line was 400 m above the current line. This suggests a complete change in the landscape of a zone that is now covered with pasture from 2,000 m to the peak (2,593 m). Although pre-Neolithic fires appear to have a primarily climatic component, the fire origins during and after this period are more complex and far from being explained by a single, unequivocal cause.


Soil charcoal analysis Fire Human impact Treeline Pyrenees Holocene 



This research was developed within the framework of two projects, both of which were funded by Spain’s Ministry of Education Science (MEC): Sustainable local development in mountain zones at the threshold between territorial abandonment and naturbanization (SEJ2006-04009/GEOG: El desarrollo local sostenible de las zonas de montaña en el umbral entre el abandono del territorio y la naturbanización) and Mountain landscapes: Patterns of management and occupation of the territory (CSO2009-08271: Los paisajes de las áreas de montaña. Patrones de gestión y de ocupación del territorio). This work was made possible by support from the Generalitat de Catalunya’s Program of Fellowships and Grants for the training and support of new investigators and from European Social Funds (BE)(2009FIC 00046), as well as the Generalitat’s funding for the Applied Geography Research Group (SGR2001-00153). Finally, the authors thank Elaine Lilly of Writer’s First Aid for English translation and review.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Raquel Cunill
    • 1
    Email author
  • Joan-Manuel Soriano
    • 1
  • Marie-Claude Bal
    • 2
  • Albert Pèlachs
    • 1
  • Ramon Pérez-Obiol
    • 3
  1. 1.GRAMP (Grup de Recerca en Àrees de Muntanya i Paisatge), Departament de GeografiaUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaCerdanyola del Vallès, BarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.GEOLAB, Départament de GeógraphieFaculté des Lettres et Sciences HumainesLimogesFrance
  3. 3.Unitat de Botànica, Facultat de BiociènciesUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaCerdanyola del Vallès, BarcelonaSpain

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