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Fire drives major Holocene vegetation shifts between subtropical and Mediterranean-type ecosystems: a case study from a biodiversity hotspot in South Africa
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  • Lynne Quick,
  • Brian Chase,
  • Manuel Chevalier,
  • Barend Grobler,
  • Saúl Manzano
Lynne Quick
Nelson Mandela University

Corresponding Author:lynne.j.quick@gmail.com

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Brian Chase
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
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Manuel Chevalier
Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
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Barend Grobler
Nelson Mandela University
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Saúl Manzano
Nelson Mandela University
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Abstract

Fire plays a pivotal role in driving ecological shifts between Mediterranean-type vegetation and subtropical ecosystems in South Africa. This study investigates long-term environmental dynamics and ecological regime changes at the Mediterranean-type vegetation /subtropical boundary using a 6000-year palaeoecological sequence from the Baviaanskloof – a region of South Africa characterized by high levels of biodiversity and climate dynamism. Combining fossil pollen and microcharcoal data from a rock hyrax (Procavia capensis) midden, we analyse vegetation responses to environmental changes. Our findings reveal that Mediterranean-type vegetation resilience prevailed until ca. 2800 cal yr BP when a major fire event triggered a transition to a subtropical thicket-dominated environment. This abrupt ecological turnover underscores the significance of fire as a major driver of vegetation change at the Mediterranean-type vegetation /subtropical boundary. Our study emphasizes the vulnerability of Mediterranean-type vegetation ecosystems to global environmental change, suggesting potential implications for similar biome boundaries worldwide. By integrating multi-proxy palaeoecological evidence, we gain insights into the resilience and vulnerability of these ecosystems, aiding in understanding future responses to climate change scenarios.