Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-684899dbb8-nlvjk Total loading time: 0.363 Render date: 2022-05-21T04:07:02.201Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true }

Climate and human influence on late Holocene fire regimes in the British Virgin Islands

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 December 2018

Joshua R. Mueller*
Department of Geography, Natural History Museum of Utah, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA
Mitchell J. Power
Department of Geography, Natural History Museum of Utah, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA
Colin J. Long
Department of Geography and Urban Planning, University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh, Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54901, USA
*Corresponding author at: Department of Geography, Natural History Museum of Utah, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA. E-mail address: (J.R. Mueller).


Global climate change poses significant threats to the Caribbean islands. Yet, little is known about the long-term disturbance regimes in island ecosystems. This research investigates 2000 yr of natural and anthropogenic fire disturbance through the analysis of a latitudinal transect of sediment records from coastal salt ponds in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). The two research objectives in this study are (1) to determine the fire regime history for the BVI over the last 2000 yr and (2) to explore ecological impacts from anthropogenic landscape modification pre- and post-European settlement. The magnitude of anthropogenic landscape modification, including the introduction of agriculture, was investigated through a multiproxy approach using sedimentary records of fossil pollen and charcoal. Our results suggest fire regimes from Belmont Pond, Thatch Island, and Skeleton Pond have been influenced by human activity, particularly during the postsettlement era, from 500 cal yr BP to modern. Our results suggest that fire regimes during the Medieval Climate Anomaly were responding to changes in climate via dominant atmospheric drivers. The presettlement fire regimes from these islands suggest that fires occurred every 90 to 120 yr. This research represents a significant data contribution to a region with little disturbance and vegetation data available.

Research Article
Copyright © University of Washington. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2018 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Birdsey, R.A., Weaver, P.L., 1982. The Forest Resources of Puerto Rico. Resource Bulletin SO-85. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station, New Orleans, LA.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brandeis, T.J., Helmer, E.H., Marcano-Vega, H., Lugo, A.E., 2009. Climate shapes the novel plant communities that form after deforestation in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Forest Ecology and Management 258, 17041718.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
British Virgin Islands (BVI) Folk Museum, 2016. A Collection of Ships Logs and Plantation Development Histories for Tortola. BVI Folk Museum, Tortola, British Virgin Islands.Google Scholar
Cronin, T.M., Hayo, K., Thunell, R.C., Dwyer, G.S., Saenger, C., Willard, D.A., 2010. The medieval climate anomaly and Little Ice Age in Chesapeake Bay and the North Atlantic Ocean. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 297, 299310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Diaz, H.F., Hoerling, M.P., Eischeid, J.K., 2001. ENSO variability, teleconnections and climate change. International Journal of Climatology 21, 18451862.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Diaz, H.F., Markgraf, V., 2000. El Nino and the Southern Oscillation: multiscale variability and global and regional impacts. Journal of Quaternary Science 5, 467468.Google Scholar
Drewett, P., 2000. Prehistoric Settlements in the Caribbean: Fieldwork on Barbados, Tortola and the Cayman Islands, 1993-1999. Archetype for the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, London.Google Scholar
Edenhofer, O., Seyboth, K., 2013. On the Sustainability of Renewable Energy Sources. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Vol. 3. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
Enache, M.D., Cumming, B.F., 2009. Extreme fires under warmer and drier conditions inferred from sedimentary charcoal morphotypes from Opatcho Lake, central British Columbia, Canada. Holocene 19, 835846.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Faegri, K., Kaland, P.E., Krzywinski, K., 1989. Textbook of Pollen Analysis. 4th ed. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, UK.Google Scholar
Gavin, D.G., Hu, F.S., Lertzman, K., Corbett, P., 2006. Weak climatic control of stand-scale fire history during the late Holocene. Ecology 87, 17221732.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Giannini, A., Chiang, J.C.H., Cane, M.A., Kushnir, Y., Seager, R., 2001. The ENSO teleconnection to the tropical Atlantic Ocean: contributions of the remote and local SSTs to rainfall variability in the tropical Americas. Journal of Climate 14, 45304544.2.0.CO;2>CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Govender, N., Trollope, W.S.W., Van Wilgen, B.W., 2006. The effect of fire season, fire frequency, rainfall and management on fire intensity in savanna vegetation in South Africa. Journal of Applied Ecology 43, 748758.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Haug, G.H., Hughen, K.A., Sigman, D.M., Peterson, L.C., Rohl, U., 2001. Southward migration of the intertropical convergence zone through the Holocene. Science 293, 13041308.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Higuera, P.E., Brubaker, L.B., Anderson, P.M., Hu, F.S., Brown, T.A., 2009. Vegetation mediated the impacts of postglacial climate change on fire regimes in the south-central Brooks Range, Alaska. Ecological Monographs 79, 201219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Horn, S.P., Sanford, R.L. Jr., 1992. Holocene fires in Costa Rica. Biotropica 24, 354361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hughes, T.P., Baird, A.H., Bellwood, D.R., Card, M., Connolly, S.R., Folke, C., Grosberg, R., Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Jackson, J.B.C., Kleypas, J., 2003. Climate change, human impacts, and the resilience of coral reefs. Science 301, 929933.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Jarecki, L., Walkey, M., 2006. Variable hydrology and salinity of salt ponds in the British Virgin Islands. Saline Systems 2, 2.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Jensen, K., Lynch, E.A., Calcote, R., Hotchkiss, S.C., 2007. Interpretation of charcoal morphotypes in sediments from Ferry Lake, Wisconsin, USA: do different plant fuel sources produce distinctive charcoal morphotypes? Holocene 17, 907915.Google Scholar
Kennedy, L.M, Horn, S.P, Orvis, K.H., 2006. A 4000-year record of fire and forest history from Valle de Bao, Cordillera Central, Dominican Republic. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 231, 279290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
LeBlanc, A.R., Kennedy, L.M., Liu, K.B., Lane, C.S., 2017. Linking hurricane landfalls, precipitation variability, fires, and vegetation response over the past millennium from analysis of coastal lagoon sediments, southwestern Dominican Republic. Journal of Paleolimnology 58, 135150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Long, C.J., Whitlock, C., Bartlein, P.J., Millspaugh, S.H., 1998. A 9000-year fire history from the Oregon Coast Range, based on a high-resolution charcoal study. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 28, 774787.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Loope, L., Duever, M., Herndon, A., Snyder, J., Jansen, D., 1994. Hurricane impact on uplands and freshwater swamp forest. BioScience 44, 238246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mann, M.E., Bradley, R.S., Hughes, M.K., 2000. Long-term variability in the El Niño/Southern Oscillation and associated teleconnections. In: Diaz, H.F., Markgraf, V. (Eds.), El Niño and the Southern Oscillation: Multiscale Variability and Global Regional Impacts. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 357410.Google Scholar
Mann, M.E., Zhang, Z., Rutherford, S., Bradley, R.S., Hughes, M.K., Shindell, D., Ammann, C., Faluvegi, G., Ni, F., 2009. Global signatures and dynamical origins of the Little Ice Age and Medieval Climate Anomaly. Science 326, 12561260.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Marlon, J.R., Bartlein, P.J., Gavin, D.G., Long, C.J., Anderson, R.S., Briles, C.E., Brown, K.J., Colombaroli, D., Hallett, D.J., Power, M.J., 2011. Long-term perspective on wildfires in the western USA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109, E535E543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Marlon, J. R., Bartlein, P. J., Carcaillet, C., Gavin, D. G., Harrison, S. P., Higuera, P. E., … Prentice, I. C., 2008. Climate and human influences on global biomass burning over the past two millennia. Nature Geoscience, 1(10), 697.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mimura, N., Nurse, L., McLean, R., Agard, J., Briguglio, L., Lefale, P., Payet, R., Sem, G., 2007. Small islands. Climate Change 16, 687716.Google Scholar
Mintz, S., 1965. The Caribbean as a socio-cultural area. Cahiers d’Histoire Mondiale. Journal of World History. Cuadernos de Historia Mundial 9, 912916.Google Scholar
Mintz, S.W., 2007. Caribbean Transformations. Transaction, New Brunswick, NJ.Google Scholar
Mueller, J.R., Long, C.J., Williams, J.J., Nurse, A., McLauchlan, K.K., 2014. The relative controls on forest fires and fuel source fluctuations in the Holocene deciduous forests of southern Wisconsin, USA. Journal of Quaternary Science 29, 561569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nicholls, R.J., Cazenave, A., 2010. Sea-level rise and its impact on coastal zones. Science 328, 15171520.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Pennington, R.T., Lavin, M., Oliveira-Filho, A., 2009. Woody plant diversity, evolution, and ecology in the tropics: perspectives from seasonally dry tropical forests. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 40, 437457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Peterson, L.C., Haug, G.H., 2006. Variability in the mean latitude of the Atlantic Intertropical Convergence Zone as recorded by riverine input of sediments to the Cariaco Basin (Venezuela). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 234, 97113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Power, M.J., Marlon, J., Ortiz, N., Bartlein, P.J., Harrison, S.P., Mayle, F.E., Ballouche, A., et. al. 2008. Changes in fire regimes since the Last Glacial Maximum: an assessment based on a global synthesis and analysis of charcoal data. Climate dynamics, 30(7–8), 887907.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Power, M.J., Whitney, B.S., Mayle, F.E., Neves, D.M., de Boer, E.J., Maclean, K.S., 2016. Fire, climate and vegetation linkages in the Bolivian Chiquitano seasonally dry tropical forest. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 371, 20150165.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Reimer, P.J., Bard, E., Bayliss, A., Beck, J.W., Blackwell, P.G., Ramsey, C.B., Buck, C.E., Cheng, H., Edwards, R.L., Friedrich, M., 2013. IntCal13 and Marine13 radiocarbon age calibration curves 0 to 50,000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55, 18691887.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sachs, J.P., Sachse, D., Smittenberg, R.H., Zhang, Z., Battisti, D.S., Golubic, S., 2009. Southward movement of the Pacific intertropical convergence zone AD 1400 to 1850. Nature Geoscience 2, 519525.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schneider, T., Bischoff, T., Haug, G.H., 2014. Migrations and dynamics of the intertropical convergence zone. Nature 513, 4553.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Stansell, N.D., Steinman, B.A., Abbott, M.B., Rubinov, M., Roman-Lacayo, M., 2012. Lacustrine stable isotope record of precipitation changes in Nicaragua during the Little Ice Age and Medieval Climate Anomaly. Geology 41, 151154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Turner, M.G., Romme, W.H., 1994. Landscape dynamics in crown fire ecosystems. Landscape Ecology 9, 5977.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vanniere, B., Colombaroli, D., Chapron, E., Leroux, A., Tinner, W., Magny, M., 2008. Climate versus human-driven fire regimes in Mediterranean landscapes: the Holocene record of Lago dell’ Accesa (Tuscany, Italy). Quaternary Science Reviews 27, 11811196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Walther, G.-R., Post, E., Convey, P., Menzel, A., Parmesan, C., Beebee, T.J.C., Fromentin, J.-M., Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Bairlein, F., 2002. Ecological responses to recent climate change. Nature 416, 389395.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Watson, R.T., Zinyowera, M.C., Moss, R.H., 1996. Climate Change 1995: Impacts, Adaptations and Mitigation of Climate Change—Scientific-Technical Analyses. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
Webb, L.J., 1958. Cyclones as an ecological factor in tropical lowland rain-forest, North Queensland. Australian Journal of Botany 6, 220228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Whitlock, C., Larsen, C., 2002. Charcoal as a fire proxy. In: Smol, J.P., Birks, H.J.B., Last, W.M., Bradley, R.S., Alverson K. (Eds.), Tracking Environmental Change Using Lake Sediments. Developments in Paleoenvironmental Research, Vol. 3. Springer, Dordrecht, the Netherlands, pp. 7597.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Climate and human influence on late Holocene fire regimes in the British Virgin Islands
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Climate and human influence on late Holocene fire regimes in the British Virgin Islands
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Climate and human influence on late Holocene fire regimes in the British Virgin Islands
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *