Ancient herders enriched and restructured African grasslands

Fiona Marshall, Rachel E.B. Reid, Steven Goldstein, Michael Storozum, Andrew Wreschnig, Lorraine Hu, Purity Kiura, Ruth Shahack-Gross, Stanley H Ambrose

Research output: Contribution to journalLetter

Abstract

Grasslands are one of the world’s most extensive terrestrial biomes and are central to the survival of herders, their livestock and diverse communities of large wild mammals 1–3 . In Africa, tropical soils are predominantly nutrient-limited 4–6 but productive grassy patches in wooded grassland savannah ecosystems 2,4 grow on fertile soils created by geologic and edaphic factors, megafauna, fire and termites 4–6 . Mobile pastoralists also create soil-fertility hotspots by penning their herds at night, which concentrates excrement—and thus nutrients—from grazing of the surrounding savannahs 7–11 . Historical anthropogenic hotspots produce high-quality forage, attract wildlife and increase spatial heterogeneity in African savannahs 4,12–15 . Archaeological research suggests this effect extends back at least 1,000 years 16–19 but little is known about nutrient persistence at millennial scales. Here we use chemical, isotopic and sedimentary analyses to show high nutrient and 15 N enrichment in on-site degraded dung deposits relative to off-site soils at five Pastoral Neolithic 20 sites (radiocarbon dated to between 3,700 and 1,550 calibrated years before present (cal. bp)). This study demonstrates the longevity of nutrient hotspots and the long-term legacy of ancient herders, whose settlements enriched and diversified African savannah landscapes over three millennia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)387-390
Number of pages4
JournalNature
Volume561
Issue number7723
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 20 2018

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Soil
Food
Ecosystem
Isoptera
Livestock
Fertility
Mammals
Grassland
Research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

Cite this

Marshall, F., Reid, R. E. B., Goldstein, S., Storozum, M., Wreschnig, A., Hu, L., ... Ambrose, S. H. (2018). Ancient herders enriched and restructured African grasslands. Nature, 561(7723), 387-390. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0456-9

Ancient herders enriched and restructured African grasslands. / Marshall, Fiona; Reid, Rachel E.B.; Goldstein, Steven; Storozum, Michael; Wreschnig, Andrew; Hu, Lorraine; Kiura, Purity; Shahack-Gross, Ruth; Ambrose, Stanley H.

In: Nature, Vol. 561, No. 7723, 20.09.2018, p. 387-390.

Research output: Contribution to journalLetter

Marshall, F, Reid, REB, Goldstein, S, Storozum, M, Wreschnig, A, Hu, L, Kiura, P, Shahack-Gross, R & Ambrose, SH 2018, 'Ancient herders enriched and restructured African grasslands', Nature, vol. 561, no. 7723, pp. 387-390. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0456-9
Marshall F, Reid REB, Goldstein S, Storozum M, Wreschnig A, Hu L et al. Ancient herders enriched and restructured African grasslands. Nature. 2018 Sep 20;561(7723):387-390. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0456-9
Marshall, Fiona ; Reid, Rachel E.B. ; Goldstein, Steven ; Storozum, Michael ; Wreschnig, Andrew ; Hu, Lorraine ; Kiura, Purity ; Shahack-Gross, Ruth ; Ambrose, Stanley H. / Ancient herders enriched and restructured African grasslands. In: Nature. 2018 ; Vol. 561, No. 7723. pp. 387-390.
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