Human impact on an island ecosystem

pollen data from Sandoy, Faroe Islands

Ian T. Lawson, Kevin John Edwards, Mike J. Church, Anthony J. Newton, Gordon T. Cook, Freddy J. Gathorne-Hardy, Andrew J. Dugmore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Aim To investigate the form and dynamics of ecosystems on an isolated island in the North Atlantic before human settlement in the first millennium AD, and the effects of human activities thereafter.

Location The island of Sandoy, Faroes (61 degrees 50' N, 6 degrees 45' W).

Methods Two sequences of lake sediments and one of peat were studied using pollen analysis and sedimentological techniques. Age models were constructed on the basis of radiocarbon dating and, in one case, tephrochronology. The data were analysed statistically and compared with existing data from the region.

Results The pollen data indicate that early Holocene vegetation consisted of fell-field communities probably growing on raw, skeletal soils. These communities gave way to grass- and sedge-dominated communities, which in turn were largely replaced by dwarf shrub-dominated blanket mire communities well before the first arrival of humans. There is evidence for episodic soil erosion, particularly in the uplands. Changes in the records attributable to human impact are minor in comparison with many other situations in the North Atlantic margins, and with certain published sequences from elsewhere in the Faroes. They include: (1) the appearance of cereal pollen and charcoal, (2) an expansion of ruderal taxa, (3) a decline in certain taxa, notably Juniperus communis and Filipendula ulmaria, and (4) a renewed increase in rates of upland soil erosion. The reliability of palaeoecological inferences drawn from these sites, and more generally from sites in similar unforested situations, is discussed.

Main conclusions The subdued amplitude of palynological and sedimentological responses to settlement at these sites can be explained partly in terms of their location and partly in terms of the sensitivity of different parts of the ecosystem to human activities. This study is important in establishing that the imposition of people on the pristine environment of Sandoy, while far from negligible, especially in the immediate vicinity of early farms and at high altitudes, had relatively little ecological impact in many parts of the landscape.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1130-1152
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Volume35
Issue number6
Early online date18 Dec 2007
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008

Keywords

  • Faroe Islands
  • human impact
  • Landnam
  • Norse
  • palaeoecology
  • pollen
  • soil erosion
  • vegetation
  • North-Atlantic
  • human settlement
  • landscape change
  • AGE CALIBRATION
  • lake-sediments
  • climate-change
  • human-ecology
  • holocene

Cite this

Lawson, I. T., Edwards, K. J., Church, M. J., Newton, A. J., Cook, G. T., Gathorne-Hardy, F. J., & Dugmore, A. J. (2008). Human impact on an island ecosystem: pollen data from Sandoy, Faroe Islands. Journal of Biogeography, 35(6), 1130-1152. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2699.2007.01838.x

Human impact on an island ecosystem : pollen data from Sandoy, Faroe Islands. / Lawson, Ian T.; Edwards, Kevin John; Church, Mike J.; Newton, Anthony J.; Cook, Gordon T.; Gathorne-Hardy, Freddy J.; Dugmore, Andrew J.

In: Journal of Biogeography, Vol. 35, No. 6, 06.2008, p. 1130-1152.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Lawson, IT, Edwards, KJ, Church, MJ, Newton, AJ, Cook, GT, Gathorne-Hardy, FJ & Dugmore, AJ 2008, 'Human impact on an island ecosystem: pollen data from Sandoy, Faroe Islands', Journal of Biogeography, vol. 35, no. 6, pp. 1130-1152. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2699.2007.01838.x
Lawson, Ian T. ; Edwards, Kevin John ; Church, Mike J. ; Newton, Anthony J. ; Cook, Gordon T. ; Gathorne-Hardy, Freddy J. ; Dugmore, Andrew J. / Human impact on an island ecosystem : pollen data from Sandoy, Faroe Islands. In: Journal of Biogeography. 2008 ; Vol. 35, No. 6. pp. 1130-1152.
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AU - Cook, Gordon T.

AU - Gathorne-Hardy, Freddy J.

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N2 - Aim To investigate the form and dynamics of ecosystems on an isolated island in the North Atlantic before human settlement in the first millennium AD, and the effects of human activities thereafter.Location The island of Sandoy, Faroes (61 degrees 50' N, 6 degrees 45' W).Methods Two sequences of lake sediments and one of peat were studied using pollen analysis and sedimentological techniques. Age models were constructed on the basis of radiocarbon dating and, in one case, tephrochronology. The data were analysed statistically and compared with existing data from the region.Results The pollen data indicate that early Holocene vegetation consisted of fell-field communities probably growing on raw, skeletal soils. These communities gave way to grass- and sedge-dominated communities, which in turn were largely replaced by dwarf shrub-dominated blanket mire communities well before the first arrival of humans. There is evidence for episodic soil erosion, particularly in the uplands. Changes in the records attributable to human impact are minor in comparison with many other situations in the North Atlantic margins, and with certain published sequences from elsewhere in the Faroes. They include: (1) the appearance of cereal pollen and charcoal, (2) an expansion of ruderal taxa, (3) a decline in certain taxa, notably Juniperus communis and Filipendula ulmaria, and (4) a renewed increase in rates of upland soil erosion. The reliability of palaeoecological inferences drawn from these sites, and more generally from sites in similar unforested situations, is discussed.Main conclusions The subdued amplitude of palynological and sedimentological responses to settlement at these sites can be explained partly in terms of their location and partly in terms of the sensitivity of different parts of the ecosystem to human activities. This study is important in establishing that the imposition of people on the pristine environment of Sandoy, while far from negligible, especially in the immediate vicinity of early farms and at high altitudes, had relatively little ecological impact in many parts of the landscape.

AB - Aim To investigate the form and dynamics of ecosystems on an isolated island in the North Atlantic before human settlement in the first millennium AD, and the effects of human activities thereafter.Location The island of Sandoy, Faroes (61 degrees 50' N, 6 degrees 45' W).Methods Two sequences of lake sediments and one of peat were studied using pollen analysis and sedimentological techniques. Age models were constructed on the basis of radiocarbon dating and, in one case, tephrochronology. The data were analysed statistically and compared with existing data from the region.Results The pollen data indicate that early Holocene vegetation consisted of fell-field communities probably growing on raw, skeletal soils. These communities gave way to grass- and sedge-dominated communities, which in turn were largely replaced by dwarf shrub-dominated blanket mire communities well before the first arrival of humans. There is evidence for episodic soil erosion, particularly in the uplands. Changes in the records attributable to human impact are minor in comparison with many other situations in the North Atlantic margins, and with certain published sequences from elsewhere in the Faroes. They include: (1) the appearance of cereal pollen and charcoal, (2) an expansion of ruderal taxa, (3) a decline in certain taxa, notably Juniperus communis and Filipendula ulmaria, and (4) a renewed increase in rates of upland soil erosion. The reliability of palaeoecological inferences drawn from these sites, and more generally from sites in similar unforested situations, is discussed.Main conclusions The subdued amplitude of palynological and sedimentological responses to settlement at these sites can be explained partly in terms of their location and partly in terms of the sensitivity of different parts of the ecosystem to human activities. This study is important in establishing that the imposition of people on the pristine environment of Sandoy, while far from negligible, especially in the immediate vicinity of early farms and at high altitudes, had relatively little ecological impact in many parts of the landscape.

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KW - soil erosion

KW - vegetation

KW - North-Atlantic

KW - human settlement

KW - landscape change

KW - AGE CALIBRATION

KW - lake-sediments

KW - climate-change

KW - human-ecology

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