Linking changes in atmospheric dust deposition, vegetation evolution and human activities in NW Spain during the last 5,300 years

A. Martinez Cortizas, Timothy Michael Mighall, X. Pontevedra Pombat, J. C. Novoa Munoz, E. Peiteado Varela, R. Pineiro Rebolo

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90 Citations (Scopus)


A high-resolution, 5300-yr record of pollen and lithogenic elements (K, Ca, Ti, Rb, Sr, Y, Zr) from an ombrotrophic peat bog located in northwest Spain, reveals that the variations in the fluxes of lithogenic elements supplied to the bog by atmospheric deposition were coupled to the evolution of the vegetation of the area. A strong negative correlation exists between the percentage of tree pollen and the concentration of lithogenic elements. For example, the correlation between total tree pollen and Sr concentrations is - 0.94. The main phases of decline of the deciduous forest occurred during known cultural periods (late Neolithic, the Metal Ages, the Roman Period, the Middle Ages and the Industrial period) suggesting a close link between human activities (fires and forest clearances), changes in the vegetation and soil erosion. The flux of lithogenic elements seems to have increased before a significant variation in pollen is detected, which may indicate that changes in soil erosion are reflected earlier than the changes in vegetation in the bog record. Variations in the composition of the deposited dust reflect impacts that occurred at different spatial scales, with local sources dominant in the late Neolithic, the Metal Ages and the Middle Ages, whilst regional sources are more important in the Roman period and the Industrial Revolution. During the prehistoric period, arboreal pollen percentages recovered to their former levels, suggesting that woodland regenerated following a disturbance phase, but for the last 1400 years no significant recovery took place until afforestation with Pines was introduced 200 years ago. While this must be the result of continuous clearances to convert forest into arable land, a cumulative effect on soil degradation must also be implied.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)698-706
Number of pages8
JournalThe Holocene
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • peat bogs
  • lithogenic elements
  • pollen
  • soil erosion
  • dust
  • atmospheric pollution
  • human impacts
  • Holocene
  • Spain
  • PB


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