skip to main content

Title: Comparing the paleoclimates of northwestern and southwestern Madagascar during the late Holocene: Implications for the role of climate in megafaunal extinction
The relative importance of climate and humans in the disappearance of the Malagasy megafauna remains under debate. Data from southwestern Madagascar imply aridification contributed substantially to the late Holocene decline of the megafauna (the Aridification Hypothesis). Evidence for aridification includes carbon isotopes from tree rings, lacustrine charcoal concentrations and pollen assemblages, and changes in fossil vertebrate assemblages indicative of a local loss of pluvial conditions. In contrast, speleothem records from northwestern Madagascar suggest that megafaunal decline and habitat change resulted primarily from human activity including agropastoralism (the Subsistence Shift Hypothesis). Could there have been contrasting mechanisms of decline in different parts of Madagascar? Or are we lacking the precisely dated, high resolution records needed to fully understand the complex processes behind megafaunal decline? Reconciling these contrasting hypotheses requires additional climate records from southwestern Madagascar. We recovered a stalagmite (AF2) from Asafora Cave in the spiny thicket ecoregion, ~10 km from the southwest coast and just southeast of the Velondriake Marine Reserve. U-series and 14C dating of samples taken from the core of this stalagmite provide a highly precise chronology of the changes in hydroclimate and vegetation in this region over the past 3000 years. Speleothem stable oxygen and carbon isotope analyses more » provide insight into past rainfall variability and vegetation changes respectively. We compare these records with those for a stalagmite (AB2) from Anjohibe Cave in northwestern Madagascar. Lastly, odds ratio analyses of radiocarbon dates for extinct and extant subfossils allow us to describe and compare the temporal trajectories of megafaunal decline in the southwest and the northwest. Combined, these analyses allow us to test the Aridification Hypothesis for megafaunal extinction. The trajectories of megafaunal decline differed in northwestern and southwestern Madagascar. In the southwest, unlike the northwest, there is no evidence of decoupling of speleothem stable carbon and oxygen isotopes. Instead, habitat changes in the southwest were largely related to variation in hydroclimate (including a prolonged drought). The megafaunal collapse here occurred in tandem with the drought, and agropastoralism likely contributed to that demise only after the megafauna had already suffered drought-related population reduction. Our results offer some support for the Aridification Hypothesis, but with three caveats: first, that there was no island-wide aridification; second, that aridification likely impacted megafaunal decline only in the driest parts of Madagascar; and third, that aridification was not the sole factor promotingmegafaunal decline even in the dry southwest. A number of megafaunal species survived the prolonged drought of the first millennium, and then likely succumbed to the activities of agropastoralists. « less
Authors:
; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1749676
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10316730
Journal Name:
Malagasy nature
Volume:
15
ISSN:
1998-7919
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. The relative importance of climate and humans in the disappearance of the Malagasy megafauna remains under debate. Data from southwestern Madagascar imply aridification contributed substantially to the late Holocene decline of the megafauna (the Aridification Hypothesis). Evidence for aridification includes carbon isotopes from tree rings, lacustrine charcoal concentrations and pollen assemblages, and changes in fossil vertebrate assemblages indicative of a local loss of pluvial conditions. In contrast, speleothem records from northwestern Madagascar suggest that megafaunal decline and habitat change resulted primarily from human activity including agropastoralism (the Subsistence Shift Hypothesis). Could there have been contrasting mechanisms of decline in different parts of Madagascar? Or are we lacking the precisely dated, high resolution records needed to fully understand the complex processes behind megafaunal decline? Reconciling these contrasting hypotheses requires additional climate records from southwestern Madagascar. We recovered a stalagmite (AF2) from Asafora Cave in the spiny thicket ecoregion, ~10 km from the southwest coast and just southeast of the Velondriake Marine Reserve. U-series and 14C dating of samples taken from the core of this stalagmite provide a highly precise chronology of the changes in hydroclimate and vegetation in this region over the past 3000 years. Speleothem stable oxygen and carbon isotopemore »analyses provide insight into past rainfall variability and vegetation changes respectively. We compare these records with those for a stalagmite (AB2) from Anjohibe Cave in northwestern Madagascar. Lastly, odds ratio analyses of radiocarbon dates for extinct and extant subfossils allow us to describe and compare the temporal trajectories of megafaunal decline in the southwest and the northwest. Combined, these analyses allow us to test the Aridification Hypothesis for megafaunal extinction.« less
  2. Madagascar experienced a major faunal turnover near the end of the first millenium CE that particularly affected terrestrial, large-bodied vertebrate species. Teasing apart the relative impacts of people and climate on this event requires a focus on regional records with good chronological control. These records may document coeval changes in rainfall, faunal composition, and human activities. Here we present new paleontological and paleoclimatological data from southwestern Madagascar, the driest part of the island today. We collected over 1500 subfossil bones from deposits at a coastal site called Antsirafaly and from both flooded and dry cave deposits at Tsimanampesotse National Park. We built a chronology of Late Holocene changes in faunal assemblages based on 65 radiocarbon-dated specimens and subfossil associations. We collected stalagmites primarily within Tsimanampesotse but also at two additional locations in southern Madagascar. These provided information regarding hydroclimate variability over the past 120,000 years. Prior research has supported a primary role for drought (rather than humans) in triggering faunal turnover at Tsimanampesotse. This is based on evidence of: (1) a large freshwater ecosystem west of what is now the hypersaline Lake Tsimanampesotse, which supported freshwater mollusks and waterfowl (including animals that could not survive on resources offered by themore »hypersaline lake today); (2) abundant now-extinct terrestrial vertebrates; (3) regional decline or disappearance of certain tree species; and (4) scant local human presence. Our new data allow us to document the hydroclimate of the subarid southwest during the Holocene, as well as shifts in faunal composition (including local extirpations, large-vertebrate population collapse, and the appearance of introduced species). These records affirm that climate alone cannot have produced the observed vertebrate turnover in the southwest. Human activity, including the introduction of cattle, as well as associated changes in habitat exploitation, also played an important role.« less
  3. Iberia is predicted under future warming scenarios to be increasingly impacted by drought. While it is known that this region has experienced multiple intervals of enhanced aridity over the Holocene, additional hydroclimate-sensitive records from Iberia are necessary to place current and future drying into a broader perspective. Toward that end, we present a multi-proxy composite record from six well-dated and overlapping speleothems from Buraca Gloriosa (BG) cave, located in western Portugal. The coherence between the six stalagmites in this composite stalagmite record illustrates that climate (not in-cave processes) impacts speleothem isotopic values. This record provides the first high-resolution, precisely dated, terrestrial record of Holocene hydroclimate from west-central Iberia. The BG record reveals that aridity in western Portugal increased secularly from 9.0 ka BP to present, as evidenced by rising values of both carbon (δ 13 C) and oxygen (δ 18 O) stable isotope values. This trend tracks the decrease in Northern Hemisphere summer insolation and parallels Iberian margin sea surface temperatures (SST). The increased aridity over the Holocene is consistent with changes in Hadley Circulation and a southward migration of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). Centennial-scale shifts in hydroclimate are coincident with changes in total solar irradiance (TSI) after 4more »ka BP. Several major drying events are evident, the most prominent of which was centered around 4.2 ka BP, a feature also noted in other Iberian climate records and coinciding with well-documented regional cultural shifts. Substantially, wetter conditions occurred from 0.8 ka BP to 0.15 ka BP, including much of the ‘Little Ice Age’. This was followed by increasing aridity toward present day. This composite stalagmite proxy record complements oceanic records from coastal Iberia, lacustrine records from inland Iberia, and speleothem records from both northern and southern Spain and depicts the spatial and temporal variability in hydroclimate in Iberia.« less
  4. null (Ed.)
    Climate drying could have transformed ecosystems in southern Madagascar during recent millennia by contributing to the extinction of endemic megafauna. However, the extent of regional aridification during the past 2000 years is poorly known, as are the responses of endemic animals and economically important livestock to drying. We inferred ~1600 years of climate change around Lake Ranobe, SW Madagascar, using oxygen isotope analyses of monospecific freshwater ostracods (Bradleystrandesia cf. fuscata) and elemental analyses of lake core sediment. We inferred past changes in habitat and diet of introduced and extinct endemic megaherbivores using bone collagen stable isotope and 14C datasets (n = 63). Extinct pygmy hippos and multiple giant lemur species disappeared from the vicinity of Ranobe during a dry interval ~1000–700 cal yr BP, but the simultaneous appearance of introduced cattle, high charcoal concentrations, and other evidence of human activity confound inference of drought-driven extirpations. Unlike the endemic megafauna, relatively low collagen stable nitrogen isotope values among cattle suggest they survived dry intervals by exploiting patches of wet habitat. Although megafaunal extirpations coincided with drought in SW Madagascar, coupled data from bone and lake sediments do not support the hypothesis that extinct megafauna populations collapsed solely because of drought. Givenmore »that the reliance of livestock on mesic patches will become more important in the face of projected climate drying, we argue that sustainable conservation of spiny forests in SW Madagascar should support local livelihoods by ensuring that zebu have access to mesic habitat. Additionally, the current interactions between pastoralism and riparian habitats should be studied to help conserve the island’s biodiversity.« less
  5. The Azores High (AH), a subtropical ridge in the atmosphere over the North Atlantic comprising one node of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) system, has a dominant influence on the weather and climate of the Iberian Peninsula and northwest Africa. The behavior of the entire NAO system over the last millennium has been the subject of much debate in both proxy- and model-based studies. Many studies have focused on the behavior of the entire NAO system, but we focus solely on the behavior of the AH due to its proximity to this region. Other proxies from this region, mainly from Spain and Morocco, have provided details about atmospheric dynamics yet spatiotemporal gaps remain. In this study, we present a continuous, sub-decadally-resolved composite stalagmite carbon isotopic record from three partially overlapping stalagmites from Buraca Gloriosa (BG) cave, western Portugal, situated within the center of the AH, that preserves evidence of regional hydroclimate variability from approximately 800 CE to the present. This composite record, developed from U-Th dating and laminae counting paired with carbon isotopes, primarily reflects effective moisture in western Portugal. Given the close pairing of AH behavior (intensity, size, and location) and moisture transport in this region, the BG compositemore »record allows for a thorough analysis of AH behavior over time. Multidecadal to centennial scale variability in the BG record and state-of-the-art last millennium climate model simulations show considerable coherence with precipitation-sensitive records from Spain and Morocco that, like BG, are strongly influenced by the intensity, size, and location of the AH. Synthesis of model output and proxy data suggests that western Portugal was persistently dry during much of the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA; ~850-1250 CE) and Modern era (1850 CE-present) and experienced wetter conditions during Little Ice Age (LIA; ~1400-1850 CE). Even considering age uncertainties from the Iberian Peninsula and northwest Africa proxy records, the apparent timing in the transition from a relatively dry MCA to a wetter LIA is spatially variable across this region, likely due to the non-stationary behavior of the AH system.« less