Late quaternary palaeoenvironments of the Mfabeni Peatland, Northern KwaZulu-Natal.
To assist in developing a more precise understanding of past climatic changes in southern Africa, further pollen analytical research is required. In the past, pollen sites in the subregion have been restricted to swampy areas such as permanent springs and peat deposits. While such sites are often rare as a consequence of the aridity of the country, rich polliniferous deposits can be found in the peatlands surrounding coastal lakes in the Maputaland Coastal Plain. The Mfabeni peatland, situated on the eastern shores of St. Lucia, contains relatively old sediments dating back to >45000 years bp at a depth of 7.80m. A multi-proxy approach, comprising radiocarbon, stable carbon isotope (513C) and palynological analysis, was applied in the investigation of Late Quaternary climatic conditions and vegetation changes along the Maputaland Coastal Plain. A single 10 m sediment core, dating back to >45000 years bp, was extracted from the Mfabeni Peatland. A detailed fossil pollen analysis of Mfabeni sediments indicated the existence of extensive Podocarpus-abundant coastal forests before ca. 44500 years bp. The onset of wetter local conditions after this time is inferred from forest retreat and the development of swampy conditions, which prevailed until ca. 25000 Cal years BP. Conditions during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM; 18000 years BP) are inferred to have been generally colder and drier, as evidenced by forest retreat and replacement of swampy reed/sedge communities by dry grassland. A significant depletion in 813C values at ca. 18200 Cal years BP indicates the dominance of C3 vegetation during the LGM, reflecting considerably colder conditions. This is in agreement with palaeoenvironmental indications from elsewhere in the Transvaalian Ecozone, although conditions at Mfabeni were more moderated in their manifestation, which can be attributed to the proximity of this site to the ocean. Cool, relatively moist conditions are inferred for the Holocene Altithermal (ca. 8000-6000 years BP), as evidenced by forest growth and expansion during this time. Warm, dry conditions are inferred for the Late Holocene, with the establishment of grassland/savanna type vegetation in the area after ca. 2000 Cal years BP.
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