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A high-resolution record of Holocene climate and vegetation dynamics from the southern Cape coast of South Africa: Pollen and microcharcoal evidence from Eilandvlei


The southern Cape is a particularly dynamic region of South Africa in terms of climate change as it is influenced by both temperate and tropical circulation systems. This paper presents pollen and microcharcoal data generated from a sediment core extracted from the coastal lake Eilandvlei spanning the last $8900 years. With an average sample resolution of 57 years, this record represents the highest resolution record of Holocene vegetation change from the region. The data indicate that cool, seasonal and moderately dry conditions characterized the Wilderness Embayment from $8900 to 8000 cal a BP. Afrotemperate forests expanded from $8000 cal a BP until 4700 cal a BP. This humid period is followed by indications of more arid and seasonal conditions until 3500 cal a BP. A long-term increase in forest taxa suggests steadily increasing moisture availability across the late Holocene. Strong affinities are noted with records from more tropical regions of South Africa, suggesting that tropical systems are of importance in maintaining higher moisture availability in the region. An important mechanism of climate change is the Agulhas Current, which transmits what appears to be a localized signal of tropical variability to the southern Cape coast.
A high-resolution record of Holocene climate and vegetation
dynamics from the southern Cape coast of South Africa: pollen and
microcharcoal evidence from Eilandvlei
Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, UMR 5554, Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution-Montpellier, Universit
Montpellier, Montpellier, France
Department of Physical Geography, Institute of Geography, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Jena, Germany
Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics, Geopolis, University of Lausanne, Quartier UNIL-Mouline, B^
atiment G
eopolis, CH-1015
Lausanne, Switzerland
School of Geographic Sciences, East China Normal University, Shanghai, PR China
Received 12 June 2017; Revised 11 October 2017; Accepted 2 February 2018
ABSTRACT: The southern Cape is a particularly dynamic region of South Africa in terms of climate change as it is
influenced by both temperate and tropical circulation systems. This paper presents pollen and microcharcoal data
generated from a sediment core extracted from the coastal lake Eilandvlei spanning the last 8900 years. With an
average sample resolution of 57 years, this record represents the highest resolution record of Holocene vegetation
change from the region. The data indicate that cool, seasonal and moderately dry conditions characterized the
Wilderness Embayment from 8900 to 8000 cal a BP. Afrotemperate forests expanded from 8000 cal a BP until
4700 cal a BP. This humid period is followed by indications of more arid and seasonal conditions until 3500 cal a BP.
A long-term increase in forest taxa suggests steadily increasing moisture availability across the late Holocene.
Strong affinities are noted with records from more tropical regions of South Africa, suggesting that tropical systems
are of importance in maintaining higher moisture availability in the region. An important mechanism of climate
change is the Agulhas Current, which transmits what appears to be a localized signal of tropical variability to the
southern Cape coast. Copyright #2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
KEYWORDS: Agulhas Current; Holocene; pollen; South Africa; southern Cape palaeoenvironments.
The southern Cape coast of South Africa is characterized by
a high degree of climatic variability as it is influenced by
both temperate and tropical circulation systems and is
additionally modulated by the variability in the Agulhas
Current (Cohen and Tyson, 1995; Reason, 2001; Bard and
Rickaby, 2009; Caley et al., 2011). At the subcontinental
scale, the relative dominance of tropical and temperate
systems is reflected in distinct rainfall regimes defined by
seasonality of precipitation (Tyson and Preston-Whyte,
2000). The south-western Cape receives most of its rainfall
during the austral winter months as the southern westerly
storm track shifts northward, while much of the rest of
southern Africa receives the bulk of its rainfall during the
austral summer (associated with the tropical easterlies), as
the continent and south-west Indian Ocean warm (Tyson
and Preston-Whyte, 2000). This variation in the seasonal
distribution of rainfall is often expressed in terms of winter
and summer rainfall zones (WRZ and SRZ, respectively)
with an intermediate transitional region that is sometimes
referred to as the year-round or aseasonal rainfall zone
(ARZ) (see Chase and Meadows, 2007) (Fig. 1). This
seasonality of rainfall has played an important role in
fostering the extraordinary botanical diversity of the region,
which broadly encompasses the Cape Floristic Region
(CFR), and includes a variety of ‘megadiverse’ fynbos
communities as well as coastal thicket and afrotemperate
forest patches (Mucina and Rutherford, 2006; Bergh et al.,
Quaternary palaeoenvironmental studies in southern
Africa have been relatively limited, largely due to the lack
of suitable sites and the spatially and temporary discontinu-
ous nature of most of the published records (e.g. Deacon
and Lancaster, 1988; Carr et al., 2006b; Chase and
Meadows, 2007). Despite this, significant advances have
been made over the last few years and higher resolution
records are emerging (e.g. Chase et al., 2011, 2013, 2015a,
b; Neumann et al., 2011; Valsecchi et al., 2013; Carr et al.,
2015; Quick et al., 2015). Important questions remain,
however, regarding the past dynamics of temperate and
tropical systems in the region, particularly at the WRZ–SRZ
interface, and their impact on regional environments (Chase
et al., 2017, 2018). The developing regional dataset
indicates that at multi-millennial timescales variations in
mid- to high-latitude Southern Hemisphere atmospheric and
oceanographic circulation have driven environmental
changes in the southern Cape through changes in the
position and influence of the westerly storm track (Chase et
al., 2013, 2017). However, these datasets also suggest that
substantial variability can occur across relatively short
distances (Chase et al., 2015a,b).
This paper presents multi-decadal fossil pollen and micro-
charcoal datasets from the southern Cape coast spanning the
last 8900 years. Derived from a 30.5-m sediment core
extracted from the coastal lake Eilandvlei, situated within the
Correspondence: Lynne J. Quick, as above.
Copyright #2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
JOURNAL OF QUATERNARY SCIENCE (2018) ISSN 0267-8179. DOI: 10.1002/jqs.3028
Wilderness Embayment, this sequence provides a unique
opportunity to investigate the vegetation dynamics and
associated environmental conditions in the region. In com-
parison to previously published pollen records from the
southern Cape coastal margin (e.g. Martin, 1968; Scholtz,
1986; Quick et al., 2015, 2016) (Fig. 1), this record represents
the first continuously sub-centennial record of Holocene
vegetation change, and provides an opportunity for the first
detailed assessment of past climate gradients between the
coast and the continental interior, complementing the other
proxy data derived from the same core (W
undsch et al.,
2016b, 2018; Kirsten et al., 2018).
Figure 1. A. Map of southern Africa showing seasonality of rainfall and sharp climatic gradients dictated by the zones of summer/tropical (red)
and winter/temperate (blue) rainfall dominance. Winter rainfall is primarily a result of storm systems embedded in the westerlies. Major
atmospheric (white arrows) and oceanic (blue arrows) circulation systems and the austral summer positions of the Inter-Tropical Convergence
Zone (ITCZ) and the Congo Air Boundary (CAB) are indicated. B. Aridity index map of the south-western Cape (Zomer et al., 2008), with lower
values indicating drier conditions (black box in A), and the locations of published palaeoenvironmental and archaeological records from the
region: 1 Elands Bay Cave (Parkington et al., 1988), 2 Grootdrift (Meadows et al., 1996), 3 Verlorenvlei (Stager et al., 2012; Carr et al., 2015a), 4
Klaarfontein Springs (Meadows and Baxter, 2001), 5 Pakhuis Pass (Scott and Woodborne, 2007a,b), 6 Sneeuberg Vlei and Driehoek Vlei
(Meadows and Sugden, 1991), 7 De Rif (Quick et al., 2011; Valsecchi et al., 2013; Chase et al., 2015a), 8 Truitjes Kraal (Meadows et al., 2010), 9
Katbakkies (Meadows et al., 2010; Chase et al., 2015b), 10 Rietvlei (Schalke, 1973), 11 Cape Flats (Schalke, 1973), 12 Princess Vlei (Neumann et
al., 2011; Kirsten and Meadows, 2016), 13 Cape Hangklip (Schalke, 1973), 14 Die Kelders (Klein and Cruz-Uribe, 2000), 15 The Agulhas Plain
vleis and lunettes (Soetendalsvlei, Voëlvlei, Renosterkop and Soutpan) (Carr et al., 2006a,b), 16 Blombos Cave (Henshilwood et al., 2001), 17
Rietvlei-Still Bay (Quick et al., 2015), 18 Pinnacle Point (Bar-Matthews et al., 2010; Rector and Reed, 2010; Matthews et al., 2011), 19
Seweweekspoort (Chase et al., 2013, 2017, in press), 20 Cango Cave (Talma and Vogel, 1992) and Boomplaas Cave (Deacon et al., 1984), 21
Norga peats (Scholtz, 1986), 22 Groenvlei (Martin, 1968; W
undsch et al., 2016a), 23 Vankervelsvlei (Irving and Meadows, 1997; Quick et al.,
2016), 24 Nelson Bay Cave (Cohen and Tyson, 1995), 25 Klasies River Mouth (Deacon et al., 1986) and 26 Uitenhage Aquifer (Heaton et al.,
1986; Stute and Talma, 1998). C. Wilderness lakes region, indicating the location of Eilandvlei and the current distribution of dominant vegetation
types (Mucina and Rutherford, 2006).
Copyright #2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Quaternary Sci. (2018)
Regional setting
The Wilderness Embayment location, geology,
geomorphology and climate
The Wilderness Embayment is a prominent feature of the
southern Cape coastal plain and comprises a series of
shore-parallel Pleistocene barrier dunes (up to 200 m
above modern sea level) separated by several rivers and
back barrier/interdunal lakes and bounded to the north by
the Outeniqua mountain range (Illenberger, 1996;
Bateman et al., 2011; Cawthra et al., 2014). It is thought
that this series of lakes was an interconnected system of
estuarine lagoons formed by the back-ponding of the
rivers, dune stabilization and the infilling of the valleys
that isolated these lagoons into the three separate lakes
(Rondevlei, Langvlei and Eilandvlei) present today (Martin,
suggested that sea-level fluctuations have been a major
force shaping the system, with dune accretion occurring
during sea-level highstands resulting in the construction of
the barrier dunes over at least the last two glacial–
interglacial cycles (Illenberger, 1996; Bateman et al.,
2011; Cawthra et al., 2014). The barrier dunes (and Mid-
Miocene to Pliocene coversands) are underlain by Palae-
ozoic (Ordovician–Silurian) Peninsula Formation sand-
stones and quartzites of the Table Mountain Group (Cape
Supergroup) (Marker and Holmes, 2002, 2010; Parsons,
2009; Bateman et al., 2011).
Today, the Wilderness Embayment experiences relatively
high mean annual precipitation, between 900 and
1000 mm a
and, being influenced by both tropical and
temperate moisture sources, rainfall is distributed through-
out the year (Climate Systems Analysis Group UCT, 2012).
Summer rainfall in the region is a result of increased
tropical easterly flow coupledwithhighIndianOceansea-
surface temperatures (Tyson, 1986; Reason and
Mulenga, 1999; Tyson and Preston-Whyte, 2000; Weldon
and Reason, 2014). Winter rainfall, in the form of frontal
is driven by the intensification and northward shift/expan-
sion of the westerlies (linked to Southern Ocean/Antarctic
climate dynamics) (Tyson, 1986; Tyson and Preston-Whyte,
2000). Interactions between temperate and tropical systems
and the subtropical anticyclones produce rainfall along the
southern Cape in the form of a range of synoptic-scale
disturbances such as ridging high-pressure systems (46% of
annual rainfall total) and tropical–temperate troughs (28%
of annual rainfall total) (Engelbrecht et al., 2015). It has
been suggested that such tropical–temperate interactions
(TTIs) have been a dominant driver of millennial-scale
climate change across much of South Africa, including
parts of the southern Cape (Chase et al., 2017) The ocean
adjacent to the southern Cape coast is an additional
important moisture source for the region, with many major
rainfall events being associated with low-level advection of
moisture onshore (originating from the warm Agulhas
Current) and local intensification of frontal systems
(Rouault et al., 2002; Engelbrecht et al., 2015; Engelbrecht
and Landman, 2016).
Eilandvlei (surface area 1.38 km
, maximum water depth
6.5 m; Weisser et al., 1992) is the westernmost lake
within the Wilderness Embayment and owes its name to
the aeolianite island near the centre (Fig. 1). The seaward
barrier dune, the youngest barrier dune formed within the
last interglacial (Bateman et al., 2011) wraps around
Eilandvlei, separating it into two ‘arms’ with one of these
dune ridges defining the southern shoreline and lake
basin. Eilandvlei is periodically connected to the ocean
via the Touws River estuary and the Serpentine Channel;
the formation of sandbars across the Touws River mouth
blocks this connection to the ocean (Russell, 2013).
Eilandvlei is connected to Langvlei via a narrow channel
to the east and receives freshwater via the Duiwe River to
the north-east. Lake level fluctuations within Eilandvlei are
limited due to the multiple sources of freshwater and
seawater inputs and the near-continuous exchange among
Contemporary vegetation
Eilandvlei, along with the other lakes in the area as well as
the interconnecting channels, is fringed by extensive stands
of emergent vegetation. The dominant species within these
communities are Phragmites australis (Poaceae), Scirpus
littoralis (Cyperaceae) and Typha latifolia (Howard-
Williams, 1980). Within the lakes themselves, aquatic,
submerged macrophytes and algae are abundant and
include Potamogeton pectinatus,Characeae(Chara globula-
ris and Lamprothamnium papulosum), Ruppia cirrhosa and
Najas marina (Howard-Williams, 1980; Allanson and
Whitfield, 1983; Weisser et al., 1992). Transitioning be-
tween the semi-aquatic and terrestrial vegetation communi-
ties are regions covered by rushes such as Juncus kraussi
(Juncaceae) (Allanson and Whitfield, 1983). Estuarine envi-
ronments including the Swartvlei and Knysna estuaries are
characterized by halophytic vegetation such as Sarcocornia
capensis and S. pillansii (Amaranthaceae), Chenolea diffusa
(Amaranthaceae) and Plantago crassifolia (Mucina and
Rutherford, 2006).
Regarding the terrestrial vegetation, there is a mosaic of
various vegetation types (Fig. 1). The region is at the heart
of the Knysna Afrotemperate Region, which represents
southern Africa’s most extensive temperate forest complex
(Geldenhuys, 1993; Midgley et al., 1997). A variety of
environmental and ecological factors determine the distri-
bution of the different vegetation types in the area (e.g.
climate, edaphic controls, topographical complexity, fire
regimes) (Cowling, 1983; Manders, 1990; Cowling and
Holmes, 1992; Geldenhuys, 1997; Mucina and Gelden-
huys, 2006). In general, afrotemperate forest patches
require the highest values of soil moisture and are
therefore most prominent in the valleys, while fynbos and
coastal thicket communities occupy the coastal lowlands
and dunes.
The seaward barrier dune that wraps around Eilandvlei is
vegetated by Southern Cape Dune Fynbos which is character-
ized by sclerophyllous shrubs (mainly Olea exasperata,
Phylica litoralis and a variety of Searsia species) with a rich
Restionaceae undergrowth (Fig. 1) (Mucina and Rutherford,
2006). Over the last 100 years, thicket taxa such as
Pterocelatrus tricuspidatus (Celastraceae), Searsia lucida and
Sideroxylon inerme have invaded this vegetation unit
(Mucina and Rutherford, 2006). Knysna Sand Fynbos can be
found on the stretch of coastal flats to the north of Eilandvlei
and the other lakes and consists of dense, moderately tall
microphyllous shrublands [predominantly Passerina rigida,
Erica curvifolia and Metalasia densa (Asteraceae)] (Mucina
and Rutherford, 2006). At the interface between fynbos, scrub
forest and afrotemperate forest are patches of Garden Route
Shale Fynbos which is structurally defined as tall dense
proteoid and ericaceous fynbos (Mucina and Rutherford,
Copyright #2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Quaternary Sci. (2018)
2006). Southern Afrotemperate Forest patches can be found
within the Touws River and Duiwe River valleys (Fig. 1). In
general, Knysna forest communities are dominated by Ocotea
bullata (Lauraceae), Olea capensis ssp. marcocarpa
(Oleaceae), Podocarpus falcatus and P. latifolius (Midgley et
al., 1997).
Following the arrival of European colonists in the 1770s,
much of the natural vegetation described above was trans-
formed into pine plantations, cultivated land and urban
sprawl (Phillips, 1931), and this trend has been greatly
accelerated in the most recent past, further exacerbated by
the invasion of exotics (such as Acacia cyclops and Para-
serianthes lophantha) (Mucina and Rutherford, 2006).
Materials and methods
The EV13 sediment cores
The RAiN (Regional Archives for Integrated Investigations;
Haberzettl et al., 2014) field campaign conducted in
October 2013 collected sediment cores from several of the
Wilderness lakes, including three cores extracted from the
profundal zone of Eilandvlei (33˚59.71910S, 22˚38.4030E,
water depth: 6 m; Fig. 1).
A short (156 cm) core (EV13-2) was retrieved using a UWITEC
( gravity corer while the use of
UWITEC’s piston coring system mounted to a floating platform
made it possible to successfully retrieve two long overlapping
cores (EV13-3: 30.22 m, EV13-4: 9.86 m). These cores were
split, photographed and lithologically described at the Univer-
sity of Jena, in Germany. A final composite 30.47-m sequence
(‘EV13’) was established based on the correlation of macro-
scopic marker layers corroborated by variations in the geochem-
ical data (W
undsch et al., 2016b).
The EV13-3 core was sub-sampled at an initial 16-cm
resolution for pollen and microscopic charcoal analyses.
Further subsamples were taken from EV13-3, as well as from
the parallel and surface cores (EV13-2 and EV13-4), to target
key points in the record where the geochemical and initial
pollen results exhibited the greatest variability. In all, 187
subsamples have been analysed for their pollen and micro-
charcoal contents.
A chronology incorporating 24 radiocarbon samples, variable
marine reservoir effects and palaeomagnetic secular variation
stratigraphy has been published for the EV13 record
undsch et al., 2016b). From this age–depth model (Fig. 2)
it has been determined that the EV13 record has a median
basal age of 8920þ200
250 cal a BP.
Pollen and microcharcoal analyses
The extraction of palynomorphs from the EV13 subsamples
followed standard palynological methods aimed at the
concentration of pollen grains and the removal, disintegration
and dissolution of the non-pollen matrix (Moore et al., 1991),
with specific adaptations for dense media separation from
Nakagawa et al. (1998). Pollen was extracted from samples
through 30% HCl treatment to remove carbonates followed
by 10% KOH digestion to disaggregate the samples and
remove humic acids. Following this, heavy liquid mineral
separation using ZnCl
at a specific gravity of 1.88 is used to
separate the pollen grains from the mineral fraction (Faegri
and Iversen, 1989; Moore et al., 1991; Nakagawa et al.,
1998). For samples with a high clay content (most of the
material fell within this category), HF treatment was used to
remove all siliceous material. Finally, all samples were
acetolysed and mounted in Aquatex (aqueous mounting
agent). Three slides were produced per sample. To determine
absolute counts and pollen concentrations, 0.5 mL of
Figure 2. The EV13 composite age–depth
model produced by W
undsch et al. (2016b)
using the Bacon software package (Blaauw
and Christen, 2011). The blue areas represent
the 2sprobability distributions of the cali-
C ages, the greyscales indicate all
probable age–depth models, grey dotted lines
show the 95% confidence intervals and the
red dotted line shows the single ‘best’ model
based on the median age for each depth.
Copyright #2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Quaternary Sci. (2018)
LacCore’s polystyrene microsphere pollen spike was added to
each sample.
Pollen counts of 500 and 300 grains per sample (depending
on the concentration) were carried out using a Zeiss Axio Lab.
A1 microscope at a magnification of 400for routine
identification and 1000for specific identification. The
computer software Polycounter v2.5.3 (Nakagawa, 2007) was
used to increase the efficiency of the counting procedure.
Spores and other non-pollen palynomorphs were also counted
but not included in the total pollen sum. When pollen
concentrations were very low, counting was discontinued after
scanning and counting all traverses from three slides for an
individual sampling level. Identification of pollen taxa was
made possible using the pollen reference slides, photograph
and key card collection housed in the department of Environ-
mental and Geographical Science at the University of Cape
Town as well as reference book collections of van Zinderen
Bakker (van Zinderen Bakker, 1953, 1956; van Zinderen
Bakker and Coetzee, 1959; Welman and Kuhn, 1970) and
Scott (1982). Pollen assemblage zones were established on the
basis of a CONISS (constrained incremental sum of squares)
analysis (Grimm, 1987). All pollen taxa identified were
included in the pollen percentage calculations.
The laboratory preparation and chemical treatments used
for the extraction of pollen also preserve microcharcoal,
making it possible to count charcoal particles and pollen
grains simultaneously. Charcoal particles were identified and
counted on all microscope slides produced. Only particles that
were black, opaque and angular were considered charcoal
fragments. Charcoal fragments were classified and counted
according to two size groups based on the longest axis of each
fragment: 10–100 mm (representing the regional fire signal)
and >100 mm (local fire signal) (Tinner et al., 1998; Conedera
et al., 2009). Particles <75 mm
(or 10 mm long) were not
counted due to the risk of false identification as they may be
mistaken for other objects such as pyrite or plant material.
Absolute charcoal abundances were calculated in the same
manner as pollen concentrations using the microsphere spike.
Vegetation dynamics inferred from the pollen
In total, 104 pollen taxa were identified from the 187 samples
analysed. The pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs and micro-
charcoal data (Figs 3 and 4; Supporting Information Appendix
S1) were divided on the basis of the CONISS analysis into two
major pollen assemblage zones and six subzones. Overall, the
Eilandvlei pollen assemblage is dominated by coastal lowland
fynbos taxa (e.g. Ericaceae, Restionaceae, Cliffortia,Stoebe-
type and Passerina) together with local wetland vegetation
(predominantly the sedges Cyperaceae and Typha). The
afrotemperate forest ecological group is characterized by high
percentages of Podocarpus, while Canthium, Celastraceae,
Euclea,Morella and Olea represent the coastal thicket group
in similar proportions. The most notable feature of the
sequence is the abrupt increase in Amaranthaceae around
4700 cal a BP. [This pollen taxon was formally known as
ChenoAm-type but the most recent gene-based APG systems
have included all Chenopodiaceae plants into the Amarantha-
ceae family; The Angiosperm Phylogeny Group, 2016.] This
point defines the division between pollen assemblage zone
EV13-A (low pollen concentrations: mean of 9.8 10
and maximum of 36 10
grains g
) and EV13-B
(high pollen concentrations: mean of 64 10
grains g
maximum of 330 10
grains g
) (Fig. 3).
Fynbos vegetation (dominated by Restionaceae and Erica-
ceae) is most prominent within the lowermost portion of the
record (EV13-A1; 8900–8450 cal a BP), coinciding with high
counts of the microcharcoal fragments (the smaller size class)
(Figs 3 and 4). During this period both afrotemperate forest
and wetland pollen percentages are low, particularly Podo-
carpus and Cyperaceae. EV13-A2 (8450–7000 cal a BP)is
characterized by a trend of generally decreasing fynbos
percentages towards the top of the subzone, slightly lower
microcharcoal counts, and increased percentages of wetland,
afrotemperate forest (predominantly Podocarpus and espe-
cially towards the top of the subzone) and coastal thicket
taxa. Fynbos pollen types dominate EV13-A3 (7000–4700 cal
aBP) largely due to increased percentages of Restionaceae.
There are discrete peaks in some of the succulent/drought-
resistant and coastal thicket taxa (e.g. Euphorbia,Euclea,
Morella and Olea) and relatively high charcoal counts,
especially at 5900 and 5000 cal a BP. In comparison to the first
two subzones, there are also increased percentages of
Podocarpus and Euphorbiaceae. No pollen was found in sub-
samples from 6450 to 6100 cal a BP, corresponding to the
lower portion of lithological unit III, which is characterized
by low total organic carbon (TOC) (W
undsch et al., 2016b).
Within EV13-B1 (4700–3700 cal a BP), together with high
percentages of Amaranthaceae, there are also slight increases
in other succulent/drought-resistant taxa (e.g. Aizoaceae,
Crassula,Pentzia-type and Zygophyllum). There is also a
distinct decline in Podocarpus percentages while coastal
thicket taxa are slightly more dominant in subzone EV13-B1
compared to subzone EV13-A3. In general, fynbos percen-
tages decrease towards the top of EV13-B1 and the overall
wetland sum is somewhat reduced relative to most of EV13-
A. Both pollen and microcharcoal concentrations increase
significantly within this subzone (Figs 3 and 4). EV13-B2
(3700–1500 cal a BP) is characterized by the highest percen-
tages of Amaranthaceae for the record. Other than a discrete
peak in Restionaceae and slight increases in Ericaceae
percentages near the top of the subzone, fynbos percentages
are less than all previous subzones. The afrotemperate forest
group is more prominently represented within the lower half
of the subzone (from 2500 cal a BP) and there is a large peak
in Typha around 2200 cal a BP. Pollen concentrations are
relatively high, whereas charcoal counts and concentrations
are reduced for most of this subzone.
The most recent part of the record (EV13-B3; 1500–100 cal a
BP) is characterized by relatively low percentages of Amarantha-
ceae pollen (except for large peaks at 1000 and 460cal a BP)and
the largest proportions of both afrotemperate forest and wetland
pollen taxa (mainly owing to increased percentages of Podocar-
pus,Typha and Cyperaceae). EV13-B3 is also defined by a
greater abundance of Pentzia-type pollen which reaches its
maximum value (5%) for the sequence near the top of this
subzone. Fynbos proportions are at their minimum values in
EV13-B3. Pollen concentrations are lower than the previous two
subzones but remain higher than those found within EV13-A.
Charcoal counts are relatively low except for a peak in the
smaller size class at 1400 cal a BP and the largest peak for the
sequence in the >100 mm size class at 1450 cal a BP.
Palaeoenvironmental dynamics and drivers at
Eilandvlei during the Holocene
Early to mid-Holocene (8900–4700 cal a BP)
The overall EV13 proxy data (W
undsch et al., 2016b, 2018;
Kirsten et al., 2018) indicate that the Eilandvlei system was
Copyright #2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Quaternary Sci. (2018)
Age (cal a BP)
Depth (m)
20 40
Asteraceae (high spine)
Euphorbiaceae (undiff.)
Succulent &/ drought-resistant taxa Fynbos elements Coastal thicket & Afrotemperate forest Wetland taxa Cosmopolitan taxa
Grains g
2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26
Total sum of squares
-1 x103
20 40
20 20
astal thicket
Afrotemperate forest
100 200 300 400
Pollen concentration
Succulent /& drought-resistant
Dark grey to black organic-rich
homogenous silty sediments
Light grey homogenous sandy silts,
low organic content
Grey to blackish layered sandy silts,
moderate organic content
Figure 3. Relative percentage pollen diagram for EV13. Taxa grouped according to general ecological affinities and are plotted against interpolated age (cal a BP) and composite depth (m). Taxa representing <2%
for any given level were excluded; the full dataset together with the non-pollen palynomorphs are presented in Appendix S1. The summary curves of the major ecological groups are the summed percentages of all
taxa allocated to each of these ecological groupings, except for the succulent/drought-resistant group where Amaranthaceae is excluded (as discussed in ‘Late Holocene: 4700–100cal a BP’). Exaggeration curves are
3and zonation is based on the results of a CONISS analysis. Lithological units (I to V) are as per W
undsch et al. (2016b).
Copyright #2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Quaternary Sci. (2018)
significantly impacted by a strong marine influence for much
of the early to mid-Holocene. Estuarine sites situated along
the west and southern Cape coasts provide further evidence
for rising sea levels from 8500 to 4000 cal a BP (Reddering,
1988; Compton, 2001; Meadows and Baxter, 2001; Carr et
al., 2015). During these phases, the landscape surrounding
Eilandvlei would probably have been very dynamic (e.g.
shifting sand dunes, dune building during transgressional
phases, submergence/inundation of landscapes) and therefore
the pollen signal from these phases may be influenced more
by geomorphic response than climate change per se. Indeed,
the high percentages of Restionaceae and wetland taxa pollen
are probably a reflection of a dynamic landscape (as outlined
by Martin, 1968).
In addition to these indicators of landscape change, other
elements of the pollen assemblage, in conjunction with the
microcharcoal record, can be used to infer changes in extra-
local vegetation cover and climate. During the early
Holocene (8900–7800 cal a BP), low afrotemperate forest per-
centages and relatively elevated percentages of certain succu-
lent/drought-resistant taxa suggest that the landscape
surrounding Eilandvlei was relatively open and dominated by
a mosaic of dune fynbos and coastal thicket with limited
forest presence. These findings are similar to those from the
nearby coastal lake of Groenvlei, where the basal units
(9000–7800 cal a BP) were also characterized by low afro-
temperate forest taxa pollen counts and a dominance of
Asteraceae and dry fynbos elements (Martin, 1968). Taken
together, this evidence points towards generally cool (domi-
nance of cold growing season fynbos taxa) and relatively arid
conditions within the Wilderness Embayment during the early
Holocene. Considered in the climatic context of the site/
region, the development of the region’s afrotemperate forest
is a direct response to a largely aseasonal rainfall regime,
which fosters the growth of drought-prone taxa such as
Podocarpus (cf. Chase and Meadows, 2007). As such, the
relatively xeric conditions of the early Holocene may be
attributed to a more seasonal, predominantly winter rainfall
regime at this time. The general long-term trends of increasing
afrotemperate forest and decreasing fynbos across the
Holocene may highlight the importance of summer rainfall
(i.e. tropically influenced synoptic conditions as opposed to
Age (cal a BP)
10 - 100 µm
>100 µm
Total charcoal
500 1000 1500
Charcoal concentration
Fragments g-1 x103
Fragments x103
Grey to blackish layered sandy silts,
moderate organic content
Dark grey to black organic-rich
homogenous silty sediments
Light grey homogenous sandy silts,
low organic content
Figure 4. Microscopic charcoal fragments per gram sample in the EV13 core, illustrated for the two size classes and total fragments. Charcoal
concentration is calculated in the same manner as pollen concentrations using the microsphere spike. The zonation is based on the pollen record.
Lithological units (I to V) are as per W
undsch et al. (2016b).
Copyright #2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Quaternary Sci. (2018)
winter rainfall sources associated with the westerlies) in
maintaining moisture availability in the region (cf. Chase et
al., 2015b). Comparisons of the Eilandvlei record with a
reconstruction of summer rainfall in the northern SRZ (Cheva-
lier and Chase, 2015) certainly seem to suggest that this is a
strong possibility (Fig. 5).
The pollen assemblage for the period 8450–7000 cal a BP
(subzone EV13-A2) indicates that a more diverse vegetation
mosaic characterized the landscape around Eilandvlei and
that there was a greater prominence of afrotemperate forest,
coastal thicket and wetland elements than the earliest part of
the record. Together with reduced charcoal counts (decreased
incidences of fires) (Fig. 4), it is suggested that conditions
were more humid during this period. After 7800 cal a BP,
there are sharp increases in afrotemperate forest taxa pollen
in both the Eilandvlei and the Groenvlei pollen (Martin,
1968) records, marking the beginning of a period of signifi-
cant forest development that lasts until 4700 cal a BP. This
corresponds to the early to mid-Holocene invigoration of
south-east Africa tropical circulation systems evident in the
precipitation reconstructions from the northern SRZ (Cheva-
lier and Chase, 2015) (Fig. 5).
While increased humidity appears to have characterized
near-coastal environments during much of the early to mid-
Holocene, the high-resolution hydroclimate records from the
Seweweekspoort rock hyrax middens from the Groot Swart-
berg mountains (130 km to the north-west of Eilandvlei,
Fig. 1) indicate a contrasting pattern of environmental change
(Chase et al., 2017) (Fig. 6). Whereas Seweweekspoort has
been suggested as being closely linked to shifts in the
southern westerlies during the Holocene [possibly in response
to changes in Antarctic sea-ice extent (Fischer et al., 2007;
Chase et al., 2013, 2017)] (Fig. 6), the records from Eilandvlei
and elsewhere in the coastal Wilderness region appear to
exhibit an opposing signal. Chase et al. (2017) highlight
strong similarities in climate variability across the interior,
from Seweweekspoort through the southern and central SRZ,
suggesting that shifts in the westerly storm track act as a
trigger for TTIs under a period of tropical dominance during
the Holocene.
These spatially extensive same-sign anomalies are reflected
in an anti-phase response in the northern SRZ (Chevalier and
Chase, 2015), along the tropical South African coast at
Mfabeni (Baker et al., 2014) and as far south as Eilandvlei
(Fig. 6). This dichotomy between tropical/coastal regions and
the continental interior is probably linked to the observed
relationship between poleward (equatorward) shifts in the
westerlies and increased (decreased) flow of the warm
Agulhas Current along the southern Cape coast (Biastoch et
al., 2009). When the westerlies are in a poleward position,
this dynamic would result in reduced rainfall seasonality,
increased advection of moisture over the coastal margin and
the proliferation of afrotemperate forest within the Wilderness
Embayment, indicating that the Agulhas Current may play a
significant role in transmitting tropical signals to higher
latitudes as it flows southward along the coast (Fig. 1).
Age (cal a BP)
0 2000 4000 6000 8000
Eilandvlei fynbos pollen (%)
Northern SRZ PWetQ (mm)
Eilandvlei afrotemperate forest
pollen (%)
Figure 5. Comparison of the EV13 record:
(A) the afrotemperate forest pollen sum and
(C) the fynbos pollen sum, with (B) the
summer precipitation reconstruction (PWetQ)
from the northern summer rainfall zone (SRZ)
(Chevalier and Chase, 2015).
Copyright #2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Quaternary Sci. (2018)
Age (cal a BP)
0 2000 4000 6000 8000
EDML ssNa+ flux (ng/cm2yr)
South-Central SRZ PWetQ (mm)
Eilandvlei Fe (ppm x1000)
Eilandvlei CIA
Eilandvlei afrotemperate forest
pollen (%)
Northern SRZ PWetQ
(mm detrended)
Age (cal a BP)
0 2000 4000 6000 8000
Figure 6. Comparison of the Eilandvlei pollen record to regional and inter-regional archives. A. Summer precipitation reconstruction (PWetQ) from the
northern summer rainfall zone of South Africa (Chevalier and Chase, 2015), detrended to remove orbital-scale trends (using cubic polynomials) to better
highlight the nature of millennial–centennial scale variability. B. Mfabeni peatland d
C record (Baker et al., 2014) from the tropical KwaZulu-Natal
coast of South Africa. C. EV13 afrotemperate forest pollen sum. D. EV13 chemical index of alteration (W
undsch et al., 2018). E, Iron (Fe) concentrations
from the EV13 core (W
undsch et al., 2018). F. Composite stable nitrogen isotope record from hyrax middens from Seweweekspoort (Chase et al., 2017).
G, Summer precipitation reconstruction (PWetQ) from the southern and central summer rainfall zone of South Africa (Chevalier and Chase, 2015). H.
Sea salt Na
flux record from the Antarctic EPICA Dronning Maud Land (EDML) ice core (Fischer et al., 2007).
Copyright #2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Quaternary Sci. (2018)
Considering the other records that have been obtained
from the Eilandvlei cores, it is particularly interesting to
compare the afrotemperate forest pollen signal with the
geochemical data, specifically the chemical index of alter-
ation (CIA) and the iron (Fe) concentrations of the sediments
(Fig. 6D,E; W
undsch et al., 2018). While the afrotemperate
forest data reflect overall aridity and rainfall seasonality, the
latter two are sometimes considered quasi-precipitation prox-
ies (Peterson et al., 2000; Haug et al., 2001; Haberzettl et al.,
2005, 2008; Mayr et al., 2005; Minyuk et al., 2006; Roy et
al., 2012; Brisset et al., 2013) as they primarily reflect the
fluvial transport and deposition of physically and chemically
weathered terrestrial sediment (W
undsch et al., 2018).
Afrotemperate forest pollen, CIA and Fe exhibit similar trends
for the early and late Holocene (closely in phase from 8900
to 6800 cal a BP and from 3000 to 200 cal a BP). However,
from 6800 to 4700 cal a BP, Fe concentrations drop sharply
(coincident with more muted decreases in CIA values). One
possible explanation for this apparent discrepancy could be
related to the landscape stability that increased forest cover
would engender, reducing the erodibility of the catchment
and limiting the transport of sediment and weathering
products by runoff. That this occurred during a period of
potentially reduced westerly influence [reduced sea-ice ex-
tent as indicated by a reduction in Antarctic EPICA Dronning
Maud Land sea salt Na
flux (Fig. 6H; Fischer et al., 2007;
Chase et al., 2013, 2017)], and relatively dry conditions at
Seweweekspoort and in the south-central SRZ (Fig. 6G),
suggests that it may also be related to a decrease in intense
precipitation events related to synoptic scale TTIs, and
therefore erosivity.
While few records of sufficient resolution exist from the
south-western Cape, based on present dynamics, the influ-
ence of the Agulhas Current appears to play a minimal role in
influencing climates further west in the WRZ (Fig. 1). At
Klaarfontein, on the Atlantic coast, and largely removed from
potential influences of the Agulhas Current, pollen data
indicate relatively dry conditions from 7500 to 4000 cal a BP
(Meadows and Baxter, 2001), and an occupational hiatus
observed in archaeological evidence from the same region at
Elands Bay Cave has been interpreted as indicating a period
of reduced freshwater resources from 8700 to 4800 cal a BP
(Parkington et al., 1988). In the Cederberg Mountains of the
Western Cape, pollen and stable isotope evidence from rock
hyrax middens from De Rif indicate relatively arid conditions
from 7000 to 5000 cal a BP (Valsecchi et al., 2013; Chase et
al., 2015a), suggesting dry WRZ conditions being roughly
coeval with the early to mid-Holocene period of increased
humidity at Eilandvlei. As indicators of aridity/increased
seasonality, the microcharcoal records from Eilandvlei and
the coastal Rietvlei–Stillbay site (located only 100 km to the
west) also show significant differences, with the latter
expressing a strong ‘WRZ pattern’ of aridity between 7000
and 5000 cal a BP (Quick et al., 2015). Today, despite their
relative proximity, conditions at Rietvlei–Stillbay are more
arid than at Eilandvlei, with a significantly more seasonal
rainfall regime (Quick et al., 2015). The data presented here
suggest that similarly steep environmental gradients charac-
terized the early to mid-Holocene and, therefore, that the
influence of the Agulhas Current may not have extended very
far to the west of the Wilderness Embayment.
The resolution of the Eilandvlei pollen record allows a
more detailed consideration of environmental change within
the early to mid-Holocene period of relatively high humidity.
From these data, two broad sub-phases are suggested, with
increasing humidity from 7800 to 5700 cal a BP, and a subse-
quent phase of generally decreasing, but highly variable,
moisture availability from 5700 to 4700 cal a BP. As men-
tioned, and including the earliest portion of the Eilandvlei
record, the period from 8900 to 5700 cal aBP suggests an anti-
phase relationship with the humidity record at Seweweek-
spoort (Fig. 6). While this relationship pertains to the general
pattern of decreasing (increasing) humidity at Eilandvlei
(Seweweekspoort) between 5700 and 4700 cal a BP, the
transition from increasing to decreasing humidity at Eilandv-
lei, from 5700 to 5100 cal a BP, indicates an inphase relation-
ship during episodes of marked changes in moisture
availability, perhaps as a response to complexities related to
increased westerly influence following the Antarctic sea-ice
minimum at 5800 cal a BP (Fischer et al., 2007; Chase et al.,
2013) (Fig. 6).
Late Holocene: 4700–100 cal a BP
Due to the coastal setting of Eilandvlei the Amaranthaceae
pollen taxon probably represents halophytic shrubs, e.g.
Salicornia (Slenzka et al., 2013). The high percentages of
Amaranthaceae within the late Holocene record (zone EV13-
B) is probably in large part related to receding sea levels after
the mid-Holocene highstand (Baxter and Meadows, 1999;
Compton, 2001; Carr et al., 2015). Salt-tolerant Amarantha-
ceae species were able to colonize dry pans and tidal mud
flats that would have emerged around Eilandvlei during
lagoonal phases. The highest percentages of Amaranthaceae
are found between 3700 and 2300 cal a BP, signifying that the
maximum extent of salt marsh vegetation surrounding Ei-
landvlei occurred during this time, coinciding with a sea-
level lowstand (Miller et al., 1995; Compton, 2001). A further
consideration is that given the ecology of many of the species
represented in the Amaranthaceae family, it is also possible
that high percentages of this taxon could, at times, be
associated with dry (and evaporative) conditions.
Excluding Amaranthaceae from the overall succulent/
drought-resistant sum (to allow for the possibility that fluctua-
tions in this taxon are driven primarily by marine influences/
local wetland dynamics) results in a generally noisy signal
but one that exhibits relatively consistent, high values
between 4700 and 4000 cal a BP, owing largely to a relatively
significant peak in the drought-tolerant Ruschia-type (Fig. 3).
This, combined with decreased afrotemperate forest and
wetland pollen percentages and the highest microcharcoal
concentrations (indicative of increased fire occurrences),
suggests that the Wilderness Embayment experienced rela-
tively arid, seasonal conditions during the later mid-Holo-
cene, until 3000 cal a BP. This period coincides with a
period of reduced tropical precipitation in the northern SRZ
(Chevalier and Chase, 2015), and enriched
C values from
the Mfabeni peatland indicating reduced forest cover under
more arid conditions (Baker et al., 2014) (Figs 5 and 6). This
further suggests that despite being a period of generally
warmer conditions (reduced fynbos pollen), periods of sum-
mer drought may have become more prevalent. Conditions at
Seweweekspoort, which have been considered more closely
related to changes in temperate climate systems, indicate
relatively humid conditions for most of this interval (up until
3700 cal a BP) (Chase et al., 2017).
From 3700 to 2700 cal a BP, data from Seweweekspoort
indicate a rapid aridification, which is coincident with an
increase in afrotemperate forest and coastal thicket (particu-
larly Olea and Euclea) presence and higher CIA values and
Fe concentrations at Eilandvlei (Fig. 6). Combined with
relatively high percentages of Crassulaceae and Zygophyllum
and a peak in charcoal concentrations at 2900 cal a BP, this
suggests that moisture availability was still somewhat
Copyright #2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Quaternary Sci. (2018)
restricted, but conditions were not as dry as the mid-
Holocene. These inferences are supported by evidence from
Groenvlei of conditions between 4200 and 2700 cal a BP
being drier than the remainder of the late Holocene
undsch et al., 2016a).
The period from 2800 to 900 cal a BP does not exhibit any
clear trend in overall water availability, but conditions appear
to have been highly variable, based on changes in afrotem-
perate forest pollen (Fig. 6). This period is of lower resolution
in the Seweweekspoort record, but the data mirror the
relatively stable long-term trend. From 950 cal a BP to the end
of the Eilandvlei record at 100 cal a BP (ad 1100 to ad 1850)
there are strong indications of increased moisture availability
(afrotemperate forest and wetland pollen percentages are at
their maximums) most probably in conjunction with warmer
conditions (fynbos, particularly Ericaceae, declines and ther-
mophilous pollen, such as Pentzia-type, become more preva-
lent) (Fig. 3). Inferences from the Groenvlei records (Martin,
1968; W
undsch et al., 2016a) also point towards wetter
conditions during the last 1000 years and therefore it seems
that the Wilderness region experienced reduced rainfall
seasonality and lower drought-stress during this period. The
anti-phase relationship with Seweweekspoort (Fig. 6) and sites
in the WRZ, such as De Rif (Chase et al., 2015a) and
Verlorenvlei (Stager et al., 2012; Carr et al., 2015), breaks
down within the last millennium. At Eilandvlei, Seweweek-
spoort and Verlorenvlei in particular, indications of wetter
conditions shift to more generally humid conditions between
1200 and 800 cal a BP (ad 850 to ad 1100), intensifying from
630 cal a BP (ad 1300) and reaching maxima for the last
2000 years between 260 and 100 cal a BP (ad 1700 to ad
1850), at the end of the Little Ice Age (Matthews and Briffa,
2005; Nash et al., 2016).
The Eilandvlei pollen data provide the highest resolution
record of Holocene vegetation change for the southern Cape
coast and represent a significant contribution to the overall
southern African palaeoenvironmental record. As excellent
indicators of changes in overall water availability and rainfall
seasonality, the variability within the pollen and microchar-
coal records is used to infer distinct shifts in climatic
conditions within the Wilderness Embayment. During the
earliest portion of the record, from 8900 to 8000 cal a BP,
conditions were generally cool, seasonal (dominance of
fynbos taxa) and moderately dry (relatively high percentages
of succulent/drought-resistant taxa). The period from 8000
to 4700 cal a BP is characterized by declines in drought-
resistant taxa and increases in afrotemperate forest taxa,
indicating the establishment of more humid conditions. High
microcharcoal counts and concentrations (signifying great
incidence of fires), peaks in succulent/drought-resistant pollen
taxa and decreased afrotemperate forest all suggest that the
period from 4700 to 3500 cal a BP was associated with
increased rainfall seasonality and relatively arid conditions.
Generally increasing percentages of afrotemperate forest taxa
from 3500 cal a BP until 100 cal a BP suggest that the late
Holocene was characterized by a long-term trend of steadily
increasing moisture availability. Maximum percentages of
forest and wetland pollen as well as increases in thermophi-
lous pollen indicate that the last millennium was particularly
humid and warm, probably associated with reduced rainfall
Comparisons of the Eilandvlei pollen record with regional
and extra-regional palaeoclimatic proxies highlight the com-
plex nature of southern Cape climate dynamics. The general
long-term trend of increasing afrotemperate forest (and
decreasing fynbos) across the Holocene, and the similarities
between these data and records from more tropical regions of
South Africa, suggests that summer rainfall is of importance in
maintaining higher moisture availability in the region. There-
fore, despite the position of Eilandvlei at 34˚S, the warm
Agulhas Current appears to be a critical mechanism for
climate change, transmitting a localized signal of tropical
variability along the southern Cape coastal margin.
The influence of the Agulhas Current cannot, however, be
disassociated from high-latitude processes (e.g. the displace-
ment and expansions/contractions of the westerlies and the
extent of Antarctic sea-ice presence in the Southern Ocean).
Studies have shown that poleward shifts of the southern
westerlies are linked to increases in Agulhas flow along the
southern Cape Coast (Biastoch et al., 2009), which would
lead to reduced rainfall seasonality, increased advection of
moisture over the coastal margin and the proliferation of
afrotemperate forest within the Wilderness Embayment.
As more high-resolution records become available, it is clear
that the inter-related climate drivers that influence the southern
Cape are even more complex than expected, and that more
research is required to fully disentangle these signals and to
further substantiate the hypotheses proposed in this paper.
Supporting Information
Additional supporting information may be found in the online
version of this article at the publisher’s web-site
Appendix S1. Relative percentages for all pollen taxa
identified, non-pollen palynomorphs (NNPs) and microchar-
coal counts and concentrations for EV13.
Acknowledgements. This study was funded by the German Federal
Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The investigations were
conducted within the collaborative project ‘Regional Archives for
Integrated Investigations’ (RAiN), which is embedded in the interna-
tional research program SPACES (Science Partnership for the Assess-
ment of Complex Earth System Processes). We are grateful to South
African National Parks (Rondevlei Scientific Services Sedgefield) for
permission to conduct fieldwork at Eilandvlei, which is part of the
protected Garden Route National Park. Richard Niederreiter (UWE-
TEC), Gerhard Daut, Thomas Kasper, Bastian Reinwarth (all Friedrich
Schiller University Jena) and Sayed Hess (University of Cape Town) are
thanked for their help during fieldwork. Brian Chase and Manuel
Chevalier’s involvement was supported in part by the European
Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Seventh Frame-
work Programme (FP7/2007e2013)/ERC Starting Grant ‘HYRAX’, grant
agreement No. 258657. Many thanks also go to Peter Frenzel
(Friedrich Schiller University Jena) for providing helpful edits to and
comments on a draft version of the manuscript.
Abbreviations. ARZ, aseasonal rainfall zone; CFR, Cape Floristic
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... The YRZ has been the focus of most paleoenvironmental and associated paleoclimatic research in this region. Here, the southern Cape coast, in particular the Wilderness area with its numerous coastal lakes including Bo Langvlei (du Plessis et al., 2020), Eilandvlei (Kirsten et al., 2018a, b;Quick et al., 2018;Reinwarth et al., 2013;Wündsch et al., , 2016b, Groenvlei (Martin, 1959(Martin, , 1968Wündsch et al., 2016a) and Swartvlei (Birch et al., 1978;, has yielded multiple paleoenvironmental records (Fig. 1b). These coastal lakes have formed between large coastal dune cordons that lie parallel to the coast. ...
... In the Wilderness area, dry conditions and low wind-driven evapotranspiration were reconstructed during this time Strobel et al., 2019;Wündsch et al., 2018) (Fig. 7d). After 4700 cal BP, the overall trend in increasing moisture availability at the central southern Cape coast is again in line with our findings at Voëlvlei (du Plessis et al., 2020;Quick et al., 2018;Strobel et al., 2019;Wündsch et al., 2018). δ 2 H n-alkane and δ 13 C n-alkane from marine sediments recovered off the mouth of the Gouritz River (GeoB18308-2; Fig. 1) show a very similar pattern to Voëlvlei over the past 4000 cal BP (Hahn et al., 2017) (Fig. 7). ...
... Seweweekspoort, Katbakkies Pass) and coastal sites from the southern Cape coast (e.g. Eilandvlei) Quick et al., 2018). There are still discrepancies due to the comparison of different proxies in these studies compared to those from the southern Cape coast. ...
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South Africa is a key region to reconstruct and understand past changes in atmospheric circulation, i.e. temperate westerlies and tropical easterlies. However, due to the scarcity of natural archives, South Africa's environmental evolution during the late Quaternary remains highly debated. Many available sediment archives are peri-coastal lakes and wetlands; however, the paleoenvironmental signals in these archives are often overprinted by sea-level changes during the Holocene. This study presents a new record from the coastal wetland Voëlvlei, which is situated in the year-round rainfall zone of South Africa on the southern Cape coast. It presents an ideal sedimentary archive to investigate both sea level and environmental changes. A 13 m long sediment core was retrieved and analysed using a multi-proxy approach. The chronology reveals a basal age of 8440 +200/-250 cal BP. Paleoecological and elemental analyses indicate marine incursions from ca. 8440 to ca. 7000 cal BP with a salinity optimum occurring at 7090 +170/-200 cal BP. At ca. 6000 cal BP, the basin of Voëlvlei was in-filled with sediment resulting in an intermittent (sporadically desiccated) freshwater lake similar to present. In contrast to previous investigations which used indirect proxies for hydrological reconstructions, here we apply a combined biomarker–sedimentological approach that allows the potential identification of precipitation sources, in combination with relative estimates of moisture availability. Increasing moisture is observed throughout the record starting from 8440 +200/-250 cal BP with contributions from both westerlies and easterlies from ca. 8440 to ca. 7070 cal BP. Westerly-derived rainfall dominates from ca. 7070 to ca. 6420 cal BP followed by a distinct shift to an easterly dominance at ca. 6420 cal BP. An overall trend to westerly dominance lasting until ca. 2060 cal BP is followed by a trend towards an easterly dominance to the present, but both phases show several intense, short-term variations. These variations are also evident in other regional studies, highlighting that the source and seasonality of precipitation has varied distinctly on the southern Cape during the Holocene. Comparison of the Voëlvlei record with other regional studies suggests a coherent trend in the overall moisture evolution along the southern Cape coast during the past 8500 years.
... In the west there is an emerging picture of regional heterogeneity in Holocene climate patterns that suggests spatially varying influences (Chase et al., 2019). For example, proxies for moisture availability in the ARZ vary markedly along east-west and elevational clines, potentially indicating differing influences of Atlantic and Indian Ocean systems (Chase and Quick, 2018). While paleoclimate records sampled across this part of the subcontinent show marked changes in moisture availability earlier and later in the Holocene, these vary from place to place, and there is little in the climate record consistent with directional fire regime change around 2000 years ago ( Fig. 4D-F). ...
... Such patterning might be expected from the introduction of grazing in a system with limited opportunities for positive feedbacks (see also Cordova et al., 2019;MacPherson et al., 2018). Eilandvlei, on the other hand, stands out with high ratio of negative anomalies during this period, consistent with pollen evidence showing increasingly wet conditions and a growing forest component (Quick et al., 2018). As opposed to the eastern half of the subcontinent, where areas with climatic and vegetation differences are mostly unified by consistent rainfall seasonality and a grassy component, the diverse climate and vegetation arrangements across the GCFR exert contrasting controls on fire and are therefore less likely to exhibit a uniform fire response through time when aggregated. ...
Globally, fire is a primary agent for modifying environments through the long-term coupling of human and natural systems. In southern Africa, control of fire by humans has been documented since the late Middle Pleistocene, though it is unclear when or if anthropogenic burning led to fundamental shifts in the region's fire regimes. To identify potential periods of broad-scale anthropogenic burning, we analyze aggregated Holocene charcoal sequences across southern Africa, which we compare to paleoclimate records and archaeological data. We show climate-concordant variability in mid-Holocene fire across much of the subcontinent. However, increased regional fire activity during the late Holocene (∼2000 BP) coincides with archaeological change, especially the introduction and intensification of food production across the region. This increase in fire is not readily explained by climate changes, but rather reflects a novel way of using fire as a tool to manage past landscapes, with outcomes conditioned by regional ecosystem characteristics.
... While hot and dry conditions prevailed in some regions, the opposite was the case elsewhere due to differences in weather regimes (Wanner et al. 2008). In southernmost Africa, the MHA was hot and dry in the winter-rainfall zone (primarily the entire South African west coast) (Compton 2006;Chase & Meadows 2007;Weldeab et al. 2013;Kirsten et al. 2020), but wetter overall in the summer-rainfall region which includes the Namib Desert, and the central and eastern regions of South Africa (e.g., Ramsay 1996;Lee-Thorp et al. 2001;Chase et al. 2009;Neumann et al. 2010;Quick et al. 2018). This allowed settlement opportunities for southern African hunter-gatherers in currently remote desert areas of Namibia as rainfall increased markedly in that region during the MHA (e.g., Kinahan 2018). ...
... Year-round precipitation along the south coast of South Africa today is a weather pattern that would not have been substantially different during the MHA due to sources from both tropical and temperate moisture systems (Quick et al. 2018). Hence, the MHA did not prevent groups from settling in the southern Cape region, as evidenced by the many caves, shelters and human burials dating to this period (Mitchell 2002). ...
After the Last Glacial Maximum, important yet milder climatic trends continued to characterise the Holocene. None of them was more challenging to forager groups in the central west coast of South Africa than the mid-Holocene Altithermal (8200–4200 cal BP ). Hot and dry weather and 1–3 m higher sea levels were thought once to have barred local foragers from this region because of a lack of sites dating to this period. Instead, this initial scenario reflected largely a sampling problem. Steenbokfontein Cave is one of a few sites with some of the largest mid-Holocene deposits, allowing insights into forager adaptations during this period. Results show high mobility over large distances and a terrestrial diet mostly dependant on small bovids, complemented with fewer coastal resources. Stone tool kits and lithic raw materials among various sites suggest that much evidence for mid-Holocene occupation is actually found near the local riparian systems.
... Comparisons of this high-resolution record with regional and extra-regional palaeoclimatic data highlight the complex nature of southern Cape climate dynamics . The similarities between the Eilandvlei record and records from more tropical regions of South Africa led to the proposal that summer rainfall is of great importance in terms of maintaining high moisture availability and that the Agulhas Current could be responsible for transmitting this signal of tropical variability along the coast Quick et al. 2018). These insights emphasize the importance of considering proxy evidence, including fossil pollen, from sites on the coast separately from those from the interior and caution against extrapolating results beyond the subregion scale. ...
... An assessment of how the ecosystem resilience and resistance hypotheses outlined in align to the greater shifts in fynbos-forest dynamics documented in other palaeoecological records from ecotonal regions of the CFR (e.g. du Plessis et al. 2020;Quick et al. 2018; remains to be undertaken. However these studies as well as Forbes et al. (2018) highlight the potential for applying a more analytical ecological lens to CFR palynological records. ...
... These results are broadly consistent with the pollen record from EV13. For a fuller discussion on the palaeoclimatic inferences please see (Quick et al. 2018). Relative pollen percentage diagram for EV11 organised according to ecological affinity, with charcoal concentrations and charcoal fragment counts. ...
... Fossil pollen records have been a key source of palaeoenvironmental information in southern Africa for decades (Coetzee 1967;Finch and Hill 2008;Lim et al. 2016;Neumann et al. 2010Neumann et al. , 2011Neumann et al. , 2014Quick et al. 2016Quick et al. , 2018Scott and Nyakale 2002;Scott and Woodborne 2007;Scott et al. 2012;Scott 1982Scott , 1989Scott , 1999Valsecchi et al. 2013;van Zinderen Bakker and Coetzee 1988;van Zinderen Bakker 1957e.g. Bousman et al. 1988). ...
... These results are broadly consistent with the pollen record from EV13. For a fuller discussion on the palaeoclimatic inferences please see (Quick et al. 2018). Relative pollen percentage diagram for EV11 organised according to ecological affinity, with charcoal concentrations and charcoal fragment counts. ...
... Fossil pollen records have been a key source of palaeoenvironmental information in southern Africa for decades (Coetzee 1967;Finch and Hill 2008;Lim et al. 2016;Neumann et al. 2010Neumann et al. , 2011Neumann et al. , 2014Quick et al. 2016Quick et al. , 2018Scott and Nyakale 2002;Scott and Woodborne 2007;Scott et al. 2012;Scott 1982Scott , 1989Scott , 1999Valsecchi et al. 2013;van Zinderen Bakker and Coetzee 1988;van Zinderen Bakker 1957e.g. Bousman et al. 1988). ...
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Interpretations of fossil pollen data are often limited to broad, qualitative assessments of past climatic and environmental conditions (e.g. colder vs. warmer, wetter vs. drier, open vs. closed landscape). These assessments can be particularly imprecise in regions such as southern Africa, where botanical biodiversity is high, and there exists an associated uncertainty regarding the climatic/environmental sensitivities of the plants contributing to a given pollen type. This atlas addresses this limitation by characterising the climate sensitivities of the 140 pollen morphotypes most often recorded in late Quaternary palaeoecology studies in southern Africa, relying on their parent plant distributions as one of the basic factors that determine their presence. The atlas is designed as a suite of graphical diagnostic tools and photographs together with analyses of the modern geographical distribution of more than 22,000 plant species to identify their primary climatic sensitivities across southern Africa. Together, the elements included span the complete workflow from pollen identification through interpretation and climate reconstruction. The atlas can be accessed from
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The Late Quaternary climate history of South Africa and, in particular, potential changes in atmospheric circulation have been subject to considerable debate. To some extent, this is due to a scarcity of natural archives, and on the other hand the available indirect hydrological proxies are not suited to distinguishing between precipitation originating from temperate Westerlies and tropical Easterlies. This study presents a paleoenvironmental record from Vankervelsvlei, a wetland located on the southern Cape coast in the year-round rainfall zone of South Africa. A 15 m long sediment record was retrieved from this site and analysed using a multi-proxy approach. This includes, for the first time in this region, analysis of both compound-specific δ²H and δ¹⁸O from leaf wax-derived n-alkanes and hemicellulose-derived sugars, respectively, to investigate hydrological changes during the Late Quaternary. Our data suggest the driest conditions of the past ∼250 ka likely occurred from MIS 6 to MIS 5e, which still caused sediment deposition at Vankervelsvlei, and MIS 2, during which time there was an absence of sedimentation. Moist conditions occurred from MIS 5e to 5a and during parts of MIS 3, while drier conditions prevailed between MIS 5a and early MIS 3 and at the transition from MIS 3 to MIS 2. Besides changes in the amount and proportional contribution of precipitation contributions from Westerlies during glacial and Easterlies during interglacial periods, relative sea-level change affected the continentality of Vankervelsvlei, with a distinct impact on the sites hydrological balance. High-resolution analyses of the Middle- and Late-Holocene parts of the record show moist conditions and increased Easterly/locally-derived summer precipitation contributions from 7230 ⁺¹⁶⁰/−210 to 4890 ⁺²⁸⁰/−180 cal BP and after 2840 ⁺³⁵⁰/−330 cal BP. Dry conditions, accompanied by the reduction of Easterly/locally-derived summer rainfall and increased seasonality occurred from 4890 ⁺²⁸⁰/−180 to 2840 ⁺³⁵⁰/−330 cal BP. Our findings highlight that source and seasonality of precipitation play a major role in the hydrological balance of the southern Cape coastal region. By comparing the Vankervelsvlei record to other regional studies, we infer a coherent trend in the overall moisture evolution along South Africa's southern Cape coast during the Late Quaternary.
Sediments are the most important source of Late Quaternary palaeoclimate information in southern Africa, but have been little studied from a geochemical perspective. However, recent advances in analytical techniques that allow rapid and near-continuous elemental records to be obtained from sedimentary sequences has resulted in the increasing use of elemental indicators for reconstructing climate. This paper explores the diverse information that can be acquired from the inorganic component of sediments and reviews some of the progress that has been made over the last two decades in interpreting the climatic history of southern Africa using elemental records. Despite the general scarcity of elemental records, excellent examples from the region exist, which provide some of the longest and most highly resolved sequences of environmental change currently available. Records from Tswaing crater and marine deposits on the southern KwaZulu-Natal coastline have provided rare glimpses into hydroclimate variability over the last 200 000 years, suggesting that summer rainfall in the region responded predominantly to insolation forcing on glacial-interglacial timescales. Over shorter timescales, lakes and wetlands found in the Wilderness embayment on the southern Cape coast and along the Maputaland coast in north-eastern South Africa have yielded highly-resolved elemental records of Holocene environmental change, providing insight into the changing interactions between tropical (e.g., El Niño-Southern Oscillation) and temperate (e.g., mid-latitude westerlies) climate systems affecting rainfall variability in the region. The examples discussed demonstrate the multiple environmental processes that can be inferred from elemental proxies and the unique insight this can provide in advancing our understanding of past climate change on different timescales. The interpretation of geochemical data can be complicated by the complex nature of sedimentary environments, various proxy assumptions and analytical challenges, and the reliability of sediment-based climate reconstructions is substantially enhanced through multi-proxy approaches.
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Introduction The core of this book is the vegetation map of the region which is the culmination of many years of work by many people. The vegetation units described become far more useful when they are made spatially explicit and the dimensions, distribu¬tion and shapes of each vegetation unit cannot adequately be described by text alone. Also the relationships between adjacent vegetation types as well as interdispersion patterns become clear through the device of the maps presented in this atlas. The atlas is presented here as a systematic series of A4 maps. These depict 435 of the vegetation types of our subcontinental region. Not depicted in this edition is AZm 1 Cape Kelp Beds that is described in the text. The map of the vegetation types of the subantarctic Marion and Prince Edward Islands is to be found in Chapter 15. The mapping in this chapter corresponds closely to the large 1:1 000 000 map sheets of Mucina et al. (2005) and is also printed at this convenient scale. In this atlas a grey outline to polygons has been added to help differentiation between adjacent vegetation units. The A4 map pages include an area of overlap at the edges with the maps on overleaf pages and contain navigational arrows to adjacent sections of the 26° map. The series of maps is preceded by an index map to page numbers of the maps of the atlas, followed by the legend to the vegetation types with colours and codes of the vegetation types. Given the large number of colours required for the atlas, the codes provide the definitive identity of vegetation types. For convenience this legend is reprinted as a separate booklet in a sleeve within the back cover of the book. Geographical names as approved by the South African Geographical Names Council are as gazetted before 1 January 2005. A compact disc (CD) containing the electronic shape files of the map is placed in a sleeve within the front cover of the book. This CD also contains the software ArcReader suitable for view¬ing the map on computer. This is a particularly valuable and effective means of zooming in to view very small polygons and intricately divided vegetation types that are difficult to see on the printed maps. Some attributes are displayed when click¬ing on a polygon in the electronic map. These are Code used in the book, Name of the vegetation type, Conservation tar-30° get, Percent of the vegetation type that is protected, Percent of the vegetation type that is unaltered, Conservation status and Protection status of the vegetation type, Area in square kilometres of the vegetation type, Area in square kilometres of the specific polygon, Code without space used on the map, Sort order (using numbers for biome, bioregion and vegetation type), Codes and names for biome, group and bioregion, and IDs for vegetation type, biome, group and bioregion used for linking data tables. The maps of biomes and bioregions at much less detailed scales are to be found in Chapter 3. Credits of work done are detailed in the individual major chap¬ters (Chapters 4 to 14) and are therefore not repeated here. Reference Mucina, L., Rutherford, M.C. & Powrie, L.W. (eds) 2005. Vegetation Map of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, 1:1 000 000 scale sheet maps. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
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Long-term (20+ years) water quality datasets for estuaries are rare, especially for smaller systems. Monitoring of salinity, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen and turbidity has been undertaken since 1991 in the intensively utilised, modified, and managed temporarily open/closed Touw Estuary and its associated three interconnected estuarine lakes, Eilandvlei, Langvlei and Rondevlei, of the Wilderness Lakes System, South Africa, a national park and Ramsar site. Spatial variability of salinity, pH and turbidity was pronounced in the Touw Estuary but largely absent in the lakes. Significant differences in median salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen and turbidity occurred between lakes, with reverse salinity and pH gradients frequently occurring. Seasonal variability in temperature and dissolved oxygen occurred in all waterbodies. Significant long-term declines in salinity have occurred in the more inland lakes, with decreases in turbidity and pH also occurring in some waterbodies. Water chemistry of the Wilderness Lakes is changing from that of an estuarine to a lacustrine system. Both biological and physical features were driving water quality changes, including reductions in river inflow, reduced marine connectivity, constriction of flow between waterbodies, and declines in submerged plant biomass. Management actions are proposed relating specifically to addressing the apparent causes for water quality changes.
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The ‘Cape Flats’ region, situated in the winter rainfall zone of South Africa, is a low-lying tombolo underlain by recent fluvial and aeolian sands and characterised by numerous small lakes and wetlands. One of these is Princessvlei, a eutrophic, freshwater coastal lake. The lake lies in an inter-dunal depression encroached on in the more recent past by high-density residential, industrial and agricultural land uses. A 210-cm core extracted from the lake periphery yielded high diatom fossil concentrations for the upper 174 cm. Princessvlei appears to oscillate between two ecologically stable states, namely, a state characterised by clear water, oligotrophic, benthic communities and a turbid state dominated by eutrophic, planktonic species. The two stable ecological states are interpreted to be a function of the relative dominance of catchment precipitation or groundwater influx which augments the open water conditions. From 2600 to 1500 cal. BP (173–135 cm), the system is predominantly turbid with greater moisture availability before a relatively rapid development of oligotrophic and dilute conditions from 1300 to 610 cal. BP (135–30 cm). A brief period of deeper water depths and meso-eutrophic conditions is observed between 550 and 445 cal. BP (23–13 cm). Following a short-lived hiatus, poly-hypertrophic, alkaline species are abundant in the top 10 cm coinciding with European colonisation in the region from the 17th century.
A multiproxy approach, focusing on biological proxies, was undertaken to determine the influence of sea-level changes along the southern Cape coast and the variability of water masses over the central Agulhas Bank region during the Holocene. A 30.47 m sedimentary core extracted from the coastal lake, Eilandvlei, shows continuous deposition for the last 9000 years. Microfossils were classified based on salinity and habitat, diatoms were further defined by their temperature preferences as either warm- or cold-water species. The composition of the assemblages is strongly linked to fluctuations in marine inflow into the system and the extent of freshwater inputs to the lake as recorded at the core site. Paleoproductivity improved during periods of equatorward migration of the westerlies, notably from 5800 to 5000 cal yr B.P., when surface water mixing increased. Spectral analysis revealed periodicities associated with solar cycles, namely Gleissberg and De Vries. The system remained predominantly marine and submerged in response to an early-mid Holocene transgression until 4700 cal yr B.P., when sea-level fluctuations and landscape modification restricted marine incursions, modified the exposed landscape and shifted the system toward a lagoon state. This multiproxy record provides insights into oceanic exchanges, surface water conditions and the mechanisms that govern them during the Holocene.
Africa's southern Cape is a key region for the evolution of our species, with early symbolic systems, marine faunal exploitation, and episodic production of microlithic stone tools taken as evidence for the appearance of distinctively complex human behavior. However, the temporally discontinuous nature of this evidence precludes ready assumptions of intrinsic adaptive benefit, and has encouraged diverse explanations for the occurrence of these behaviors, in terms of regional demographic, social and ecological conditions. Here, we present a new high-resolution multi-proxy record of environmental change that indicates that faunal exploitation patterns and lithic technologies track climatic variation across the last 22,300 years in the southern Cape. Conditions during the Last Glacial Maximum and deglaciation were humid, and zooarchaeological data indicate high foraging returns. By contrast, the Holocene is characterized by much drier conditions and a degraded resource base. Critically, we demonstrate that systems for technological delivery e or provisioning e were responsive to changing humidity and environmental productivity. However, in contrast to prevailing models, bladelet-rich microlithic technologies were deployed under conditions of high foraging returns and abandoned in response to increased aridity and less productive subsistence environments. This suggests that posited links between microlithic technologies and subsistence risk are not universal, and the behavioral sophistication of human populations is reflected in their adaptive flexibility rather than in the use of specific technological systems.
A 30.5 m sediment core was recovered from the coastal lake Eilandvlei (EV13), which represents a unique high-resolution record of environmental change for southern Africa. For the establishment of a robust chronology, special emphasis was placed on the calibration of radiocarbon (¹⁴C) ages obtained from the dating of different material. However, the reliability of ¹⁴C ages can be problematic since coastal lakes interact with different source pools providing ¹⁴C-depleted (“old”) carbon thus causing reservoir effects. The origin of old carbon affecting the EV13 samples was most likely sourced from the Indian Ocean. Two pre-bomb marine molluscan shells were therefore analysed to determine the regional marine reservoir offset (ΔR), with obtained ΔR values of 134 ± 38 and 161 ± 38 ¹⁴C yrs providing the first available data for the south coast of South Africa. However, the application of the resulting average ΔRmean = 148 ± 27 ¹⁴C yrs for the calibration of the entire EV13 record underestimates the variable reservoir effects throughout the Holocene. These were possibly caused by past changes in the connectivity between the present lake system and the ocean as well as a varying degree of upwelling in this area. To solve this problem, three sample pairs (each consisting of wood fragments and bulk organic sediment from the same core depth) were dated to calculate the variable past reservoir effects. This approach provided a median basal age of 8920 ⁺²⁰⁰/-250 cal BP. Palaeomagnetic secular variation stratigraphy was used to corroborate the chronology for the topmost 1.5 m of the record (past millennium), thus providing the first Holocene sediment based inclination and declination data from South Africa.