The Holocene British and Irish ancient woodland fossil beetle fauna: implications for forest history, biodiversity and faunal colonisation

Nicola Whitehouse

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    62 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper presents a new review of our knowledge of the ancient forest beetle fauna from Holocene archaeological and palaeoecological sites in Great Britain and Ireland. It examines the colonisation, dispersal and decline of beetle species, highlighting the scale and nature of human activities in the shaping of the landscape of the British Isles. In particular, the paper discusses effects upon the insect fauna, and examines in detail the fossil record from the Humberhead Levels, eastern England. It discusses the local extirpation of up to 40 species in Britain and 15 species in Ireland. An evaluation of the timing of extirpations is made, suggesting that many species in Britain disappear from the fossil record between c. 3000 cal BC and 1000 cal BC (c. 5000-3000 cal BP), although some taxa may well have survived until considerably later. In Ireland, there are two distinct trends, with a group of species which seem to be absent after c. 2000 cal BC (c. 4000 cal BP) and a further group which survives until at least as late as the medieval period. The final clearance of the Irish landscape over the last few hundred years was so dramatic, however, that some species which are not especially unusual in a British context were decimated. Reasons behind the extirpation of taxa are examined in detail, and include a combination of forest clearance and human activities, isolation of populations, lack of temporal continuity of habitats, edaphic and competition factors affecting distribution of host trees (particularly pine), lack of forest fires and a decline in open forest systems. The role of climate change in extirpations is also evaluated. Consideration is given to the significance of these specialised ancient forest inhabitants in Ireland in the absence of an early Holocene land-bridge which suggests that colonisation was aided by other mechanisms, such as human activities and wood-rafting. Finally, the paper discusses the Continental origins of the British and Irish fauna and its hosts and the role played by European glacial refugia.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1755-1789
    Number of pages35
    JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
    Issue number15-16
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2006

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Earth-Surface Processes


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