Multi-proxy evidence of late-Holocene paleoenvironmental change at Princessvlei, South Africa: The effects of fire, herbivores, and humans

Carlos E. Cordova, Kelly L. Kirsten, Louis Scott, Andreas Lücke, Michael E. Meadows

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21 Citations (Scopus)


A multi-proxy approach conducted on a sediment core from a small lake in the Cape Flats (Princessvlei, South Africa), supported by five AMS dates, reveals the paleoenvironments over the last 3900 years. Despite some gaps in the records, phytoliths, diatoms, δ18Odiatom, pollen, coprophilous fungus spores, microscopic charred particles (micro-charcoal), and burnt-grass phytoliths, indicate vegetation disturbances caused by climatic changes, anthropogenic influences, fire, and herbivore activity. Pollen spectra indicates a moist period (3600-2600 cal yr BP), which co-occurs with an increase in fires, possibly due to greater biomass fuel loads coupled with the moderate presence of large herbivores. Subsequently, a dry period (2600-1900 cal yr BP) saw a rapid increase of large herbivores probably congregating around the lake, a contention supported also by the occurrence of nutrient-rich waters. This dry period saw reduced fires and a decline of C3 grasses in favor of C4 grasses. The arrival of herders in the Cape after 2000 cal yr BP is not immediately apparent in the multiple records, except for minor vegetation changes and regional fires c. 1200–1400 cal yr BP. However, a more consistent presence of livestock in the immediate area of Princessvlei occurs only after c. 600 cal yr BP, when peak frequencies of coprophilous spores coincide with changes in vegetation composition and occurrence of more eutrophic waters in the lake. The introduction of exotic flora, fire suppression, and a reduction of herding activities, characterizes the period of European settlement (c. 300 BP to present).
Original languageEnglish
Article number105896
Number of pages16
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Early online date30 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

© 2019 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved


The NRF supported L. Scott (GUN 2053236). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions are those of the authors and the above institutions do not accept any liability in regard thereto.


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