Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 487–501 | Cite as

Vegetation history of the western Rif mountains (NW Morocco): origin, late-Holocene dynamics and human impact

  • Serge D. MullerEmail author
  • Laila Rhazi
  • Benjamin Andrieux
  • Marion Bottollier-Curtet
  • Séverine Fauquette
  • Er-Riyahi Saber
  • Nabil Rifai
  • Amina Daoud-Bouattour
Original Article


Unlike southern Spain, northern Morocco has been little investigated for palaeoecological purposes. Consequently, the origin and history of the Rifan vegetation is largely unknown, as well as the past role of human activities. A review of the Plio-Pleistocene fossil data available from North Africa clearly reveals the ancient origin of much of the present-day flora and vegetation structures of the region. A well-dated pollen record covering the last 5,000 years, obtained from a fen, is compared to previous regional pollen data in order to understand the late-Holocene vegetation dynamics and the influence of anthropogenic disturbances. Modern pollen spectra have allowed the calibration of pollen diversity and evenness as indicators of tree-cover density. The results obtained show the long-term persistence of regional forests until the onset of Arab Sharifian dynasties in the 16th century, with a surprising lack of human impact during the late Neolithic, and little impact during Roman colonisation. The increasing density of deciduous forests recorded from 3,800 to 1,900 cal bp, concomitant with the expansion of cedar in the Middle Atlas, could reveal the onset of widespread cooler and moister climatic conditions. The weak and late human impact in the Rifan mountains explains, at least in part, their high diversity and the conservation of their forest ecosystems. Anthropogenic activities however have led to severe modification of the understorey structure of these forests during the four last centuries, and to the worrying on-going deforestation that presently threatens the survival of this invaluable biological heritage.


Late Cenozoic North Africa Palynology Anthropisation Climate Mediterranean forest 



We thank Lucie Chabal for charcoal identification, Laurent Callegarin and Patrice Cressier for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript, Mandak Bohumil for information about recently found tetraploid alder populations in southern Spain, and Alex Chepstow-Lusty for editing. We also address our grateful thanks to the two anonymous reviewers and the copy editor, whose comments were greatly appreciated. The present work is part of the project Medyna (FP7-PEOPLE-2013-IRSES). This publication is the contribution ISE-M no 2014-157.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Serge D. Muller
    • 1
    Email author
  • Laila Rhazi
    • 2
  • Benjamin Andrieux
    • 1
  • Marion Bottollier-Curtet
    • 3
  • Séverine Fauquette
    • 1
  • Er-Riyahi Saber
    • 4
  • Nabil Rifai
    • 5
    • 6
  • Amina Daoud-Bouattour
    • 7
    • 8
  1. 1.Institut des Sciences de l’EvolutionUniversité Montpellier 2, CNRS, IRDMontpellier Cedex 05France
  2. 2.Laboratoire de botanique, mycologie et environnement, Faculté des Sciences de RabatUniversité Mohammed VRabatMorocco
  3. 3.Les Ecologistes de l’Euzière, Domaine de RestinclièresPrades-le-LezFrance
  4. 4.Département de Géographie, Faculté des Lettres et Sciences HumainesUniversité Moulay IsmailZitoune MeknèsMorocco
  5. 5.Direction Régionale des Eaux et Forêts et de la Lutte contre la Désertification du RifTétouanMorocco
  6. 6.Laboratoire d’Ecologie Aquatique et Environnement, Faculté des Sciences Aïn ChockUniversité Hassan II CasablancaCasablancaMorocco
  7. 7.Département de Biologie, Faculté des Sciences de TunisUniversité de Tunis El ManarTunisTunisia
  8. 8.Faculté des Lettres, des Arts et des Humanités de Manouba, UR99/UR/02-04 BiCADEUniversité de la ManoubaManoubaTunisia

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