Ongoing and future anthropogenic climate change poses one of the greatest threats to biodiversity, affecting species distributions and ecological interactions. In the Amazon, climatic changes are expected to induce warming, disrupt precipitation patterns and of particular concern, to increase the intensity and frequency of droughts. Yet the response of ecosystems to intense warm, dry events is not well understood. In the Andes the mid‐Holocene dry event (MHDE),c. 9,000 to 4,000 years ago, was the warmest and driest period of the last 100,000 years which coincided with changes in evaporation and precipitation that caused lake levels to drop over most of tropical South America. This event probably approximates our near‐climatic future, and a critical question is:How much did vegetation change in response to this forcing?
Lake Pata, Brazilian Western Amazonia.
Terrestrial and aquatic plants.
We used pollen, charcoal, total organic carbon (TOC), total nitrogen (TN), δ13C and δ15N data from a new high‐resolution core that spans the lastc. 7,600 years history of Lake Pata.
We found that in the wettest section of Amazonia changes associated with the MHDE were detected in the geochemistry analysis but that vegetation changed very little in response to drought during the Holocene. This is the first high‐resolution core without apparent hiatuses that spans most of the Holocene (last 7,600 cal yrbp) from Lake Pata, Brazil. Changes in the organic geochemistry of sediments indicated that between c. 6,500 and 3,600 cal yrbplake levels dropped. Vegetation, however, showed little change as near‐modern forests were seen throughout the record, evidencing the substantial resilience of this system. Only a few species replacements and minor fluctuations in abundance were observed in the pollen record.
The mid‐Holocene warming and reduced precipitation had a limited impact on western Amazonian forests. We attribute much of the resilience to a lack of fire in this system, and that if human‐set fires were to be introduced, the forest destruction from that cause would override that induced by climate alone.