Spatio-temporal patterns of Holocene environmental change in southern Sicily

Camilla Calò, Paul D. Henne, Brandon Curry, Michel Magny, Elisa Vescovi, Tommaso La Mantia, Salvatore Pasta, Boris Vannière, Willy Tinner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Few examples of natural forest remain near the Mediterranean coast. Therefore, it is difficult to study how coastal forests respond to climatic change or their resilience to human impact. We developed new sedimentary record of Holocene vegetation and fire history at Lago Preola, a coastal lake in southwestern Sicily (Italy). In order to verify the existence of forest at large scale on the coast, we compare pollen from Lago Preola, a medium-sized lake (33. ha), to Gorgo Basso, a small lake (3. ha) located nearby with the aim of separating local from extra-local vegetation dynamics through time using pollen percentages and influx. We then compare Lago Preola pollen to the record from Biviere di Gela, a large lagoon (120. ha) situated 160. km to the east in southern Sicily, to examine differences in vegetation dynamics between the two coastal areas during the Holocene. Lake-level reconstructions and ostracode analyses from Lago Preola provide vegetation-independent evidence of climate change, and help to disentangle human and climatic impacts on vegetation. Pollen data indicate Pistacia-dominated shrublands replaced open grasslands in the region surrounding Lago Preola by 9500. cal. yr. BP. This change coincided with rising lake levels and the development of an ostracode fauna typical of fresh waters. Evergreen forest dominated by Quercus ilex and Olea europaea started to expand by 7000. cal. BP and consolidated at 6500. cal. yr. BP, when lake levels were near their Holocene high. Similarities between pollen from Lago Preola and Gorgo Basso demonstrate that forest was the dominant vegetation type in coastal Sicily during the middle Holocene at both regional and local scales, and even developed in the drier climatic setting around Biviere di Gela. Lake levels fell at Lago Preola after 7000. cal. yr. BP, with a strong decline accompanied by increasing salinity after 4500. cal. yr. BP. However, no transition in vegetation matched these inferred hydrological changes. Instead, forests persisted in the surrounding region until 2200. cal. BP when human disturbance intensified. We propose that different climatic factors control lake levels and vegetation in coastal Mediterranean ecosystems. Whereas lake levels are most sensitive to the abundance of winter precipitation, coastal forests depend on spring precipitation and are limited by the length of summer drought. Moisture availability remained suitable for evergreen forests in coastal Sicily during the late Holocene, and humans, not a drier climate drove the regional forest decline.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)110-122
Number of pages13
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
StatePublished - Mar 15 2012


  • Climate change
  • Holocene
  • Mediterranean
  • Paleoecology
  • Paleohydrology
  • Sicily

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Palaeontology


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