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Hydrological and land-use changes in the Cuzco region (Cordillera Oriental, South East Peru) during the last 1200 years: a diatom-based reconstruction

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 17:21 authored by Mieke Sterken, Koen Sabbe, Alex Chepstow-Lusty, Mick FrogleyMick Frogley, Koenraad Vanhoutte, Elie Verleyen, Andy Cundy, Wim Vyverman
A quantitative diatom analysis was carried out on a sediment core from the small infilled lake basin of Marcacocha (Cuzco-region, SE Peru), in order to reconstruct environmental changes between 800 and 1850 AD. Five stratigraphical zones were distinguished by means of constrained cluster analysis. Very few diatoms were present between 790 and 1070 AD, probably reflecting dry and cool conditions, at a time when anthropogenic impact was limited around the basin. The transition at ca. 1070 AD was the most pronounced, and corresponded with a marked shift towards higher temperatures, as deduced from plant macroremains and the pollen record. This coincided with a sudden climate shift from cold and dry conditions towards warmer and even drier conditions, as recorded elsewhere in tropical South America. Between 1070 and 1650 AD diatoms (mainly the genus Epithemia Ktzing) became more abundant, together with charophyte oospores, suggesting the existence of a stable, shallow lake. The transition in diatom composition and abundances at ca. 1650 AD, with peaks centered on 1700 AD, lag behind the start of the Little Ice Age (around 1490-1530 AD), though match increased cooling at the end of the 17th and early 18th century as recorded in Peruvian ice cores. This could be caused by a threshold that was passed after the lake level had lowered sufficiently due to a cooling and drying climate, as well as infilling processes. Further transitions in the diatom community may be interpreted less in terms of climatic change, but as increasing sensitivity to local environmental changes, such as a lake level decrease and lake infilling. A hiatus in diatom abundance observed between ca. 1750 and 1810 AD, could be associated with increasing colonization of Juncaceae around the lake margin and rapid infilling, possibly linked to the construction of drainage canals clearly visible today. The final stage of infilling occurred after ca. 1845 AD, with complete colonization of the remaining lake surface by Juncaceae, with further accumulation of peats.


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  • Published


Archiv fur Hydrobiologie





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  • Geography Publications


Other co-main authors: Vanhoutte, K., Verleyen, E., Vyverman, W.

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