Palaeoecological signatures of vegetation change induced by herbivory regime shifts on subantarctic Enderby Island

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Journal Article
Quaternary Science Reviews, 2016, 134, pp. 51-58
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The stratigraphic relationships of palaeoecological proxies and use of changepoint analyses to determine the cause and effect relationships between past events has allowed a better understanding of the relative contributions of humans and environmental drivers to Late Quaternary extinctions and of their effects on terrestrial ecosystems. Few studies, however, have validated these approaches at localities where past interactions between vegetation communities and large herbivores are well-documented. Here, we use a peat core from subantarctic Enderby Island to present the first study tracing the spores of dung fungi alongside pollen at a site where the history of mammalian herbivore introductions (and subsequent eradication), and their effects on the vegetation, are precisely known. We find a strong connection between spore influx rates of the dung-fungus Sporormiella and PCA axis 1 of the pollen assemblages, suggesting that past vegetation change caused by herbivore introductions and eradications at the core site can be readily deduced from the palaeoecological record. The response of the vegetation community to the removal of herbivores was so rapid, however, that a difference in timing between changepoints relating to specific pollen taxa, the overall pollen community, and the decline of Sporormiella spores, could not be resolved in our record, despite a sampling resolution of <5 years. We suggest that further case-studies, spanning different vegetation and herbivore communities, are required to provide increased confidence in inferences drawn about cause-and-effect relationships using proxy changepoint offsets in palaeoecological records.
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