Climate drying and associated forest decline in the lowlands of northern Guatemala during the late Holocene

Andreas D. Mueller, Gerald Islebe, Michael B. Hillesheim, Dustin A. Grzesik, Flavio S. Anselmetti, Daniel Ariztegui, Mark Brenner, Jason H. Curtis, David A. Hodell, Kathryn A. Venz

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97 Scopus citations


Palynological studies document forest disappearance during the late Holocene in the tropical Maya lowlands of northern Guatemala. The question remains as to whether this vegetation change was driven exclusively by anthropogenic deforestation, as previously suggested, or whether it was partly attributable to climate changes. We report multiple palaeoclimate and palaeoenvironment proxies (pollen, geochemical, sedimentological) from sediment cores collected in Lake Petén Itzá, northern Guatemala. Our data indicate that the earliest phase of late Holocene tropical forest reduction in this area started at ∼ 4500 cal yr BP, simultaneous with the onset of a circum-Caribbean drying trend that lasted for ∼ 1500 yr. This forest decline preceded the appearance of anthropogenically associated Zea mays pollen. We conclude that vegetation changes in Petén during the period from ∼ 4500 to ∼ 3000 cal yr BP were largely a consequence of dry climate conditions. Furthermore, palaeoclimate data from low latitudes in North Africa point to teleconnective linkages of this drying trend on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-141
Number of pages9
JournalQuaternary Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Pru and Don Rice and an anonymous reviewer for helpful criticisms of an earlier version of this paper. We also thank M. Ploetze, D. Kennett, A. Gilli, G. Haug, and I. Hajdas for discussions and constructive comments. We are grateful to D. Schnurrenberger, D. Buck, M. Rosenmeier for help during coring operations. This work was supported by ETH Research Grant TH-1/04-1, the Swiss National Science Foundation, and the US National Science Foundation (ATM-0502030).

Copyright 2011 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Environmental changes
  • Guatemala
  • Holocene
  • Lake sediments
  • Tropical palaeoclimate


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