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A multiproxy approach to investigate Late Holocene anthropogenic and natural drivers of fire from a coastal lagoon near Manatee Bay, Jamaica

Authors: Romario Anderson*, University of the West Indies, Mona, Michael Burn, University of the West Indies, Mona, Shira Yoshi Maezumi, University of Amsterdam; University of the West Indies, Mona, Suzanne Palmer, University of the West Indies, Mona, Dana MacDonald, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Jeffrey Donnelly, Woodshole Oceanographic Institute
Topics: Paleoenvironmental Change, Biogeography
Keywords: Palaeofire, palaeoenvironment, hurricane-fire interaction, charcoal, palaeotempestology, neotropics, Caribbean
Session Type: Poster
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The extent to which climatic and anthropogenic drivers have influenced Late-Holocene fire activity in the Caribbean is poorly resolved. In Jamaica, documented settlement by Ostionoid (600-700 CE) and subsequent Meillacan cultures (950-1000 CE) implies that humans have influenced the island’s landscape for at least 1300 years. However, fire activity on the island also has the potential to be influenced by long-term changes in effective moisture and hurricane activity. Here we present preliminary multi-proxy analyses of a 4.3m (~2000-year) sediment record from Manatee Bay, a coastal lagoon situated within the Hellshire Hills, an extensive, globally rare, and protected semi-deciduous dry limestone forest community in southern Jamaica. Given the site’s sensitivity to changes in effective moisture and proximity to documented Taino archaeological sites, the Manatee Bay sediment record provides an opportunity to examine long-term anthropogenic and natural controls on local fire dynamics. Measurements of organic matter and carbonate content of recovered sediment cores confirm the presence of distinct marine washover deposits, which were likely deposited during the passage of historical tropical cyclones; although deposition of washover during the earthquake-induced tsunami of 1692 CE that generated a 1.8m wave cannot be discounted. High-resolution analyses of macroscopic charcoal suggest natural ignition of fire is limited as evidenced by low levels of charcoal influx prior to the first human settlement on the island. Subsequent increases in the influx of charcoal since the arrival of the Ostionoids suggest that anthropogenic influences may have subsequently had a more significant influence on the site's long-term fire regime.

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