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Title: High spatial resolution Holocene vegetation and land-use history in West Glen Affric and Kintail, Northern Scotland
Author(s): Davies, Althea Lynn
Issue Date: 1999
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: Small peat basins (c. 10-50 m diameter) were used to obtain fine spatial resolution pollen-stratigraphic records of Holocene vegetation and land-use history in upland West Glen Affric and adjacent lowland Kintail, north-western Scottish Highlands. These data provide evidence for remarkably diverse and dynamic early to mid-Holocene vegetational mosaic and sustained later Holocene upland land-use. While acidophilous Pinus sylvestris-Betula-Calluna vulgaris communities on lower hillslopes appear comparable with other areas of the Highlands, data from floodplain and alluvial fan sediments in West Affric indicate a greater woodland diversity. Betula-dominated alluvial woods included a species-rich mix of arboreal, fen, tall-herb and ruderal herbaceous taxa, with Pinus forming small populations, confined to marginal soils. Ulmus was an important component of the lowland Betula-Alnus woods. Spatial differences in soil forming processes, particularly nutrient and base status, played a primary role in determining community composition, structure, dynamics, species diversity and stability. Inferred climatic shifts during the mid-Holocene, initially to drier, more continental conditions, followed by increased oceanicity, are suggested to have made woodland communities increasingly vulnerable to low intensity grazing disturbance and anthropogenic interference during the later Neolithic and early Bronze Age. These stresses resulted in widespread woodland decline, including that of Pinus, with the spread of blanket peat and heath on poorer hillside soils, and grassland communities on alluvial sediment. Bronze Age agricultural expansion is followed by several phases of expansion and/or intensification, with sustained pastoral and arable activity in the lowlands and on small 'islands' of richer soils in the uplands. There is little evidence for abandonment and the longevity of agricultural activity, particularly cultivation, above 250 m OD clearly indicates that the unqualified assumption of upland marginality is inappropriate. The implications for the interpretation of land-use in the Highlands from conventional palynological and archaeological records are discussed. The level of spatial and temporal detail regarding the palaeoecology of plant communities and adaptive land management evident in the present study is not afforded by conventional pollen analyses. This suggests that fine-spatial resolution palynology has the potential to contribute previously unrecognised information at scales which are directly applicable to ecological and human understanding and which can be more successfully integrated with neoecological and archaeological research, fostering closer collaboration between the disciplines.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Natural Sciences
Department of Environmental Science

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