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Palynological studies document forest disappearance during the late Holocene in the tropical Maya lowlands of northern Guatemala. The question remains as to whether this vegetation change was driven exclusively by anthropogenic deforestation, as previously suggested, or whether it was partly attributable to climate changes. We report multiple palaeoclimate and palaeoenvironment proxies (pollen, geochemical, sedimentological) from sediment cores collected in Lake Petén Itzá, northern Guatemala. Our data indicate that the earliest phase of late Holocene tropical forest reduction in this area started at ∼ 4500 cal yr BP, simultaneous with the onset of a circum-Caribbean drying trend that lasted for ∼ 1500 yr. This forest decline preceded the appearance of anthropogenically associated Zea mays pollen. We conclude that vegetation changes in Petén during the period from ∼ 4500 to ∼ 3000 cal yr BP were largely a consequence of dry climate conditions. Furthermore, palaeoclimate data from low latitudes in North Africa point to teleconnective linkages of this drying trend on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
The record of Almoloya Lake in the Upper Lerma basin starts with the deposition of the late Pleistocene Upper Toluca Pumice layer. The data from this interval indicate a period of climatic instability that lasted until 8500 cal yr B.P., when temperature conditions stabilized, although moisture fluctuations continued until 8000 cal yr B.P. Between 8500 and 5000 cal yr B.P. a temperate climate is indicated by dominance of Pinus. From 5000 to 3000 cal yr B.P. Quercus forest expanded, suggesting a warm temperate climate: a first indication of drier environmental conditions is an increase in grassland between 4200 and 3500 cal yr B.P. During the Late Holocene (3300 to 500 cal yr B.P.) the increase of Pinus and grassland indicates temperate dry conditions, with a considerable increase of Pinus between 1100 and 950 cal yr B.P. At the end of this period, humidity increased. The main tendency during the Holocene was a change from humid to dry conditions. During the Early Holocene, Almoloya Lake was larger and deeper; the changing humidity regime resulted in a fragmented marshland, with the presence of aquatic and subaquatic vegetation types.