Vegetational response to human colonisation of the coastal and volcanic environments of Ketilssta{eth}ir, southern Iceland

Egill Erlendsson*, Kevin J. Edwards, Paul C. Buckland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Tephra-dated, high-resolution pollen profiles from Ketilssta{eth}ir, southern Iceland, indicate a largely unwooded pre-settlement environment, a probable consequence of the exposed coastal location. The degree of change associated with the Norse landnám is more limited than in many Icelandic pollen diagrams. There are three main periods of change in the post-settlement vegetational development of the area. Firstly, Norse settlement affected the hydrology of the bog, resulting in the near-disappearance of Sphagnum and agricultural activity led to a reduction of some species (e.g. Angelica spp. and, Salix). Secondly, the establishment of probable permanent settlement in the mid-11th century AD initiated expansion of such apophytic taxa as Plantago spp. Lactuceae, Ranunculus spp. and Pteridophytes. Thirdly, the ≥ 10 cm thick Katla tephra, deposited in AD 1357, enhanced drainage of the bog surface, favouring dryland taxa (e.g. Poaceae, Galium and Lactuceae). The tephra deposit and the associated drainage probably caused or contributed to the local extinction of the wetland beetle Hydraena britteni. The study has enabled a series of natural and humanly-related issues to be addressed including tephra-vegetation relationships, the anthropogenic reduction in plant diversity, and comparisons between historical and environmental settlement records.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)174-187
Number of pages14
JournalQuaternary Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to the Leverhulme Trust, the University of Aberdeen and the Icelandic Research Fund for Post-Graduate Students for funding this research. Many individuals contributed advice and laboratory and logistical support, including Andy Dugmore, Eva Panagiotakopulu, Guðrún Sveinbjarnardóttir, Mike Church and Ian Lawson. The farmers at Ketilsstaðir kindly provided information and access to their fields during fieldwork.

Other keywords

  • Coleoptera
  • Iceland
  • Landnám
  • Mýrdalur
  • Norse
  • Palynology
  • Tephra


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