Infoscience

Journal article

Could anthropogenic soil erosion have influenced Mediterranean vegetation distribution over the Holocene?

The circum-Mediterranean region is characterized by a strongly seasonal climate with rainy winters and intense summertime drought, steep topography, and a multi-millennial history of intensive human land use, all of which make its soils vulnerable to erosion. The historical and stratigraphic record documents severe and long-term soil erosion in several locations in the Mediterranean. A forest-to-scrub transition in Mediterranean vegetation between the mid-Holocene (6,000 yr BP) and the present is evident in the observational palaeorecord. Debate as to the causes of this shift is ongoing. This study seeks to test the sensitivity of large-scale vegetation patterns to changes in soil physical properties such as depth, content of coarse fragments, and organic matter content using the Mediterranean region as a case study. We find that simulated biomes are sensitive to changes in some soil physical properties at some locations, but that threshold values for soil change to affect vegetation are very high. Additional work is required to analyze the role that other soil physical properties, and climate change, played in influencing Holocene land cover change in the Mediterranean, and to improve model representations of relevant processes.

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