A 1000-year sedimentary record of hurricane, fire, and vegetation history from a coastal lagoon in southwestern Dominican Republic

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Virginia Tech

Our knowledge of whether hurricanes cause lasting changes in forest composition and the patterns and role of fire in Caribbean dry forests are lacking. This project combines paleoecological and paleotempestological methods to document the disturbance and environmental history of the last 1000 yrs at Laguna Alejandro, situated in the lowland dry forests of arid SW Dominican Republic. I analyzed multiple proxy data sources of a 160 cm coastal lagoon sediment profile. High-resolution (1 cm) sampling for loss-on-ignition and magnetic susceptibility indicated multiple erosion and hurricane events, including a hurricane ~996 cal YBP, and several erosion events and hurricanes between ~321 cal YBP and present day. Pollen analysis documented 32 plant families with most levels dominated by pollen of Fabaceae (legumes), the Urticales order, and Cyperaceae (sedges), though families of upland and montane vegetation are also present ~510-996 cal YBP. All pollen slides contained microscopic charcoal indicating the occurrence of regional or extra-local fires over the last ~1000 yrs. Local fires, as indicated by macroscopic charcoal, occurred before ~434 cal YBP and may be tied to hurricanes, increased moisture in the region (thereby increased fuel and ignition chances), or prehistoric human activities. Pollen spectra representing periods before and after disturbance events were similar and may support the idea of forest resilience, but more samples are needed. Multiple erosion events between ~294 cal YBP and present may be tied to hurricanes or tropical storms and increasing late-Holocene aridity in the region as documented by several studies from the Caribbean.

tropical dry forests, Dominican Republic, charcoal, paleotempestology, pollen analysis