Rapid succession of plant associations on the small ocean island of Mauritius at the onset of the Holocene

Erik J. de Boer, Henry Hooghiemstra, F.B. Vincent Florens, Claudia Baider, Stefan Engels, Vasilis Dakos, Maarten Blaauw, K.D. Bennett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


The island of Mauritius offers the opportunity to study the poorly understood vegetation response to climate change on a small tropical oceanic island. A high-resolution pollen record from a 10 m long peat core from Kanaka Crater (560 m elevation, Mauritius, Indian Ocean) shows that vegetation shifted from a stable open wet forest Last Glacial state to a stable closed-stratified-tall-forest Holocene state. An ecological threshold was crossed at ∼11.5 cal ka BP, propelling the forest ecosystem into an unstable period lasting ∼4000 years. The shift between the two steady states involves a cascade of four abrupt (<150 years) forest transitions in which different tree species dominated the vegetation for a quasi-stable period of respectively ∼1900, ∼1100 and ∼900 years. We interpret the first forest transition as climate-driven, reflecting the response of a small low topography oceanic island where significant spatial biome migration is impossible. The three subsequent forest transitions are not evidently linked to climate events, and are suggested to be driven by internal forest dynamics. The cascade of four consecutive events of species turnover occurred at a remarkably fast rate compared to changes during the preceding and following periods, and might therefore be considered as a composite tipping point in the ecosystem. We hypothesize that wet gallery forest, spatially and temporally stabilized by the drainage system, served as a long lasting reservoir of biodiversity and facilitated a rapid exchange of species with the montane forests to allow for a rapid cascade of plant associations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-125
Number of pages12
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Early online date16 Mar 2013
Publication statusPublished - 05 May 2013


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