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Two hundred years of environmental change in Picos de Europa National Park inferred from sediments of Lago Enol, northern Iberia

Abstract

We present a study of two short sediment cores recovered from Lago Enol, in the Picos de Europa National Park, Cantabrian Mountains, northern Iberia. We inferred past climate conditions and anthropogenic impacts using geochemical and biological (pollen and diatoms) variables in the dated sequences, in conjunction with temperature and precipitation data collected since 1871 at meteorological stations in the region. The record provides evidence of environmental changes during the last 200 years. At the end of the Little Ice Age (~1800–1875 AD) the region was characterized by an open landscape. Long-term use of the area for mixed livestock grazing in the mountains, and cultivation of rye during the nineteenth century, contributed to the expansion of grassland at the expense of forest. Warmer temperatures since the end of the nineteenth century are inferred from a change in diatom assemblages and development of the local forest. Socioeconomic transformation during the twentieth century, such as livestock changes related to dairy specialization, planting of non-native trees, mining activities, and management of the national park since its creation in 1918, caused profound changes in the catchment and in the lake ecology. The last several decades (~1970–2007 AD) of the Lago Enol sediment record are strikingly different from previous periods, indicating lower runoff and increasing lake productivity, particularly since AD 2000. Today, the large number of tourists who visit the area cause substantial impacts on this ecosystem.

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Acknowledgments

M. Leira, A. Moreno and L. López-Merino contributed equally to this work. This research was funded through the projects LIMNOCLIBER (REN2003-09130-C02-02), IBERLIMNO (CGL2005-20236-E/CLI), LIMNOCAL (CGL2006-13327-C04-01), CLICAL (CICYT: CGL2006-13327-C04-03/CLI) and GRACCIE (CSD2007-00067) provided by the Spanish Inter-Ministry Commission of Science and Technology (CICYT). Additional funding was provided by the Spanish National Parks agency through the project “Evolución climática y ambiental del Parque Nacional de Picos de Europa desde el último máximo glaciarref: 53/2006”. A. Moreno acknowledges funding from the “Ramón y Cajal” postdoctoral program, and L. López-Merino is currently supported by a postdoctoral research grant (Spanish Ministry of Education) at Brunel University (UK). We are indebted to María José Domínguez-Cuesta for the location figure and IPE-CSIC laboratory staff for their collaboration in this research. The director and staff of the Picos de Europa National Park are also acknowledged for their help on the sampling campaigns and on the compilation of data about the human activities in the park area (Miguel Menéndez and Amparo Mora). We also wish to thank the three anonymous referees who provided useful criticisms, information, points of view, and valuable suggestions to improve the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Lourdes López-Merino.

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Lourdes López-Merino, Ana Moreno and Manel Leira are contributed equally to this article.

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López-Merino, L., Moreno, A., Leira, M. et al. Two hundred years of environmental change in Picos de Europa National Park inferred from sediments of Lago Enol, northern Iberia. J Paleolimnol 46, 453–467 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10933-011-9546-5

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Keywords

  • Picos de Europa National Park
  • Anthropogenic impact
  • Little Ice Age
  • Geochemistry
  • Pollen
  • Diatoms