A critical assessment of human-impact indices based on anthropogenic pollen indicators

Deza-Araujo, Mara; Morales-Molino, César; Tinner, Willy; Henne, Paul D.; Heitz, Caroline; Pezzatti, Gianni B.; Hafner, Albert; Conedera, Marco (2020). A critical assessment of human-impact indices based on anthropogenic pollen indicators. Quaternary science reviews, 236, p. 106291. Elsevier 10.1016/j.quascirev.2020.106291

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Anthropogenic pollen indicators in pollen records are an established tool for reconstructing the history of human impacts on vegetation and landscapes. They are also used to disentangle the influence of human activities and climatic variability on ecosystems. The comprehensive anthropogenic pollen-indicator approach developed by Behre (1981) has been widely used, including beyond its original geographical scope of Central and Western Europe. Uncritical adoption of this approach for other areas is risky because adventives (plants introduced with agriculture) in Central Europe can be apophytes (native plants favoured by human disturbances) in other regions. This problem can be addressed by identifying region-specific, anthropogenic-indicator pollen types and/or developing region-specific, human-impact indices from pollen assemblages. However, understanding of regional variation in the timing and intensity of human impacts is limited by the lack of standardization, validation and intercomparison of such regional approaches. Here we review the most common European anthropogenic pollen-indicator approaches to assess their performance at six sites spanning a continental gradient over the boreal, temperate and Mediterranean biomes. Specifically, we evaluate the human-indicator approaches by using independent archaeological evidence and models. We present new insights into how these methodologies can assist in the interpretation of pollen records as well as into how a careful selection of pollen types and/or indices according to the specific geographical scope of each study is key to obtain meaningful reconstructions of anthropogenic activity through time. The evaluated approaches generally perform better in the regions for which they were developed. However, we find marked differences in their capacity to identify human impact, while some approaches do not perform well even in the regions for which they were developed, others might be used, with due caution, outside their original areas or biomes. We conclude that alongside the increasing wealth of pollen datasets a need to develop novel tools may assist numeric human impact reconstructions.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of Archaeological Sciences > Pre- and Early History
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Palaeoecology
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)

UniBE Contributor:

Deza Araujo, Mara Muriel, Morales del Molino, Cesar, Tinner, Willy, Henne, Paul Daniel, Heitz, Caroline Franziska, Hafner, Albert


900 History > 930 History of ancient world (to ca. 499)
500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)








Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

16 Jun 2020 12:06

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:39

Publisher DOI:






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