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Nature Communications


Understanding how tropical systems have responded to large-scale climate change, such as glacial-interglacial oscillations, and how human impacts have altered those responses is key to current and future ecology. A sedimentary record recovered from Lake Junín, in the Peruvian Andes (4085 m elevation) spans the last 670,000 years and represents the longest continuous and empirically-dated record of tropical vegetation change to date. Spanning seven glacial-interglacial oscillations, fossil pollen and charcoal recovered from the core showed the general dominance of grasslands, although during the warmest times some Andean forest trees grew above their modern limits near the lake. Fire was very rare until the last 12,000 years, when humans were in the landscape. Here we show that, due to human activity, our present interglacial, the Holocene, has a distinctive vegetation composition and ecological trajectory compared with six previous interglacials. Our data reinforce the view that modern vegetation assemblages of high Andean grasslands and the presence of a defined tree line are aspects of a human-modified landscape.


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