Taming Fogo Island: Late-Holocene volcanism, natural fires and land use as recorded in a scoria-cone sediment sequence in Cabo Verde



Cabo Verde remained uninhabited until 1460 CE, when European sailors founded a settlement in Santiago, and soon after in Fogo island. The degree to which different island ecosystems in Cabo Verde have been transformed by humans remains uncertain because of a scarcity of historical information and archaeological evidence. Disentangling these processes from natural ones is complicated in islands with a history of volcanic impacts and other natural hazards. In this paper, we apply microfossil (pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs and phytoliths) and sedimentological analyses (granulometry, X-ray diffraction, loss on ignition and tephrostratigraphy) to a 2-m sediment sequence deposited in a scoria cone from 4100 cal year BP (calibrated years before 1950 CE) to the present. The organic-rich basal sediments indicate that between 4100 and 2600 cal year BP the pre-settlement landscape of Fogo was an open grassland, where fire was infrequent and/or small-scale. An increase in volcanic glass deposition after 2600 cal year BP, peaking ca. 1200 cal year BP, suggests that there was a progressive activation of Fogo’s volcanic activity, contemporaneous with increased fire frequency and erosion pulses, but with little impact on local grassland vegetation. While dating uncertainty is high, the first evidence of intensive local land use by early settlers was in the form of cultivation of Zea mays, abundant spores of coprophilous fungi (i.e. Sporormiella), and peaks in charcoal concentrations between 800 and 400 cal year BP. This was followed by large increases in pollen from pigeon pea (Cajanus), a diverse array of exotic trees (Cupressus, Grevillea), and invasive shrubs (Lantana). The introduction of these taxa is part of recent human effort to ‘tame’ this steep, dry and hazardous island by reducing erosion and providing firewood. An important outcome of these efforts, however, is a loss of fragile native biodiversity.
Date made available12 Jan 2023
PublisherSAGE Journals

Cite this