Late Holocene environmental change and anthropogenic: Ecosystem interaction on the Laikipia Plateau, Kenya.
East African ecosystems have been shaped by long-term socio-ecological-environmental interactions. Although much previous work on human-environment interrelationships have emphasised the negative impacts of human interventions, a growing body of work shows that there have also often been strong beneficial connections between people and ecosystems, especially in savanna environments. However, limited information and understanding of past interactions between humans and ecosystems of periods longer than a century hampers effective management of contemporary environments. Here, we present a late Holocene study of pollen, fern spore, fungal spore, and charcoal analyses from radiocarbon-dated sediment sequences and assess this record against archaeological and historical data to describe socio-ecological changes on the Laikipia Plateau in Rift Valley Province, Kenya. The results suggest a landscape characterised by closed forests between 2268 years before present (cal year BP) and 1615 cal year BP when there was a significant change to a more open woodland/grassland mosaic that continues to prevail across the study area. Increased amounts of charcoal in the sediment are observed for this same period, becoming particularly common from around 900 cal year BP associated with fungal spores commonly linked to the presence of herbivores. It is likely these trends reflect changes in land use management as pastoral populations improved and extended pasture, using fire to eradicate disease-prone habitats. Implications for contemporary land use management are discussed in the light of these findings.