Environmental change and fire in the Owen Stanley Ranges, Papua New Guinea

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    Abstract

    Kosipe, an upland valley at 2000 m altitude in the Owen Stanley Ranges of southeastern New Guinea, is known for the discovery of large stone waisted blades dated to 31 400 cal a BP. The purpose of these tools and the nature of occupation are unknown. The altitude is too high for most food crops today and may have stood close to the treeline during the last glaciation. Three pollen and charcoal diagrams from a large swamp in the Kosipe Valley provide a record of swamp and dryland changes for more than 50 000 years. There have been considerable fluctuations in vegetation on the slopes and on the swamp which reflect both environmental change and anthropogenic influences. A gymnosperm-rich forest at the base is replaced by mountain forest dominated by Nothofagus about 42 000 years ago. Fire first becomes apparent across the swamp around 40 000 years ago but is not common during the time when subalpine herbs reach their best representation. Tree fern-rich grasslands form a mosaic with montane forest in a near-treeline environment. The Pleistocene-Holocene boundary is marked by a decline in Nothofagus and increase in lower montane mixed forest taxa. Charcoal increases before this time and the swamp vegetation becomes more grass-rich. Charcoal is at its maximum through the last 3000 years possibly reflecting climate variability as well as sedentary occupation and agriculture on the swamp margin. Supplementary pollen diagrams from two higher altitude sites support the evidence from the Kosipe Swamp cores. Charcoal, local catchment erosion and increases in disturbance taxa become more widespread in the last 5000 years at these sites, suggesting that local settlement at Kosipe may have lagged behind general landscape use by populations from lower altitudes.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2261-2276
    JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
    Volume28
    Issue number23-24
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2009

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