Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 25, Issue 5, pp 499–519 | Cite as

Holocene vegetation and fire history of the mountains of Northern Sicily (Italy)

  • Willy TinnerEmail author
  • Elisa Vescovi
  • Jacqueline F. N. van Leeuwen
  • Daniele Colombaroli
  • Paul D. Henne
  • Petra Kaltenrieder
  • César Morales-Molino
  • Giorgia Beffa
  • Bettina Gnaegi
  • W. O. van der Knaap
  • Tommaso La Mantia
  • Salvatore Pasta
Original Article


Knowledge about vegetation and fire history of the mountains of Northern Sicily is scanty. We analysed five sites to fill this gap and used terrestrial plant macrofossils to establish robust radiocarbon chronologies. Palynological records from Gorgo Tondo, Gorgo Lungo, Marcato Cixé, Urgo Pietra Giordano and Gorgo Pollicino show that under natural or near natural conditions, deciduous forests (Quercus pubescens, Q. cerris, Fraxinus ornus, Ulmus), that included a substantial portion of evergreen broadleaved species (Q. suber, Q. ilex, Hedera helix), prevailed in the upper meso-mediterranean belt. Mesophilous deciduous and evergreen broadleaved trees (Fagus sylvatica, Ilex aquifolium) dominated in the natural or quasi-natural forests of the oro-mediterranean belt. Forests were repeatedly opened for agricultural purposes. Fire activity was closely associated with farming, providing evidence that burning was a primary land use tool since Neolithic times. Land use and fire activity intensified during the Early Neolithic at 5000 bc, at the onset of the Bronze Age at 2500 bc and at the onset of the Iron Age at 800 bc. Our data and previous studies suggest that the large majority of open land communities in Sicily, from the coastal lowlands to the mountain areas below the thorny-cushion Astragalus belt (ca. 1,800 m a.s.l.), would rapidly develop into forests if land use ceased. Mesophilous Fagus-Ilex forests developed under warm mid Holocene conditions and were resilient to the combined impacts of humans and climate. The past ecology suggests a resilience of these summer-drought adapted communities to climate warming of about 2 °C. Hence, they may be particularly suited to provide heat and drought-adapted Fagus sylvatica ecotypes for maintaining drought-sensitive Central European beech forests under global warming conditions.


Pollen Macrofossils Charcoal Mediterranean Climate change Fagus sylvatica Abies nebrodensis 



We thank Willi Tanner for technical advice during the coring and Florencia Oberli for palynological sample preparation, Brigitta Ammann for her steady support, Tomasz Goslar for radiocarbon dating, Walter Finsinger, Todd J. Hawbaker, Robert S. Thompson, and an anonymous reviewer for valuable comments on the manuscript. WT is grateful to the Swiss National Science Foundation for supporting this study (SNF PP00P2-114886) and CMM acknowledges the Swiss Government Excellence Postdoctoral Scholarship (2014.0386). Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Willy Tinner
    • 1
    Email author
  • Elisa Vescovi
    • 1
  • Jacqueline F. N. van Leeuwen
    • 1
  • Daniele Colombaroli
    • 1
  • Paul D. Henne
    • 1
    • 2
  • Petra Kaltenrieder
    • 1
  • César Morales-Molino
    • 1
  • Giorgia Beffa
    • 1
  • Bettina Gnaegi
    • 1
  • W. O. van der Knaap
    • 1
  • Tommaso La Mantia
    • 3
  • Salvatore Pasta
    • 4
  1. 1.Institute of Plant Sciences and Oeschger Centre for Climate Change ResearchUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, U.S. Geological SurveyDenver Federal CenterDenverUSA
  3. 3.Department of Agrarian and Forestry Sciences (SAF)University of PalermoPalermoItaly
  4. 4.Department of BiologyUniversity of FribourgFribourgSwitzerland

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