Impacts of changing climate and land use on vegetation dynamics in a Mediterranean ecosystem: Insights from paleoecology and dynamic modeling

Paul D. Henne, Ché Elkin, Daniele Colombaroli, Stéphanie Samartin, Harald Bugmann, Oliver Heiri, Willy Tinner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Forests near the Mediterranean coast have been shaped by millennia of human disturbance. Consequently, ecological studies relying on modern observations or historical records may have difficulty assessing natural vegetation dynamics under current and future climate. We combined a sedimentary pollen record from Lago di Massacciucoli, Tuscany, Italy with simulations from the LandClim dynamic vegetation model to determine what vegetation preceded intense human disturbance, how past changes in vegetation relate to fire and browsing, and the potential of an extinct vegetation type under present climate. We simulated vegetation dynamics near Lago di Massaciucoli for the last 7,000 years using a local chironomid-inferred temperature reconstruction with combinations of three fire regimes (small infrequent, large infrequent, small frequent) and three browsing intensities (no browsing, light browsing, and moderate browsing), and compared model output to pollen data. Simulations with low disturbance support pollen-inferred evidence for a mixed forest dominated by Quercus ilex (a Mediterranean species) and Abies alba (a montane species). Whereas pollen data record the collapse of A. alba after 6000 cal yr bp, simulated populations expanded with declining summer temperatures during the late Holocene. Simulations with increased fire and browsing are consistent with evidence for expansion by deciduous species after A. alba collapsed. According to our combined paleo-environmental and modeling evidence, mixed Q. ilex and A. alba forests remain possible with current climate and limited disturbance, and provide a viable management objective for ecosystems near the Mediterranean coast and in regions that are expected to experience a mediterranean-type climate in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)819-833
Number of pages15
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Abies alba
  • Chironomids
  • Fire ecology
  • Holocene
  • Italy
  • Landscape model
  • Mediterranean forest
  • Neolithic
  • Pollen
  • Quercus ilex


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