Large variations of δ13C values in stalagmites from southeastern China during historical times: Implications for anthropogenic deforestation

Haiwei Zhang, Yanjun Cai, Liangcheng Tan, Hai Cheng, Shijiang Qin, Zhisheng An, R. Lawrence Edwards, Le Ma

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8 Scopus citations


Variations in speleothem δ13C values can reflect changes in overlying surface vegetation, which, over historical time scales, may represent the influence of human activities. Here, we examined δ13C variations in two stalagmites growing for the last 2200 years in Shennong Cave, Jiangxi Province, SE China. The two δ13C records corroborate well one another and show a prominent 6‰ enrichment of the δ13C values from AD 700 to 1100. The isotopic equilibrium for modern calcite and negative correlation between δ18O and δ13C values along the growth axis suggest that the influences of kinetic fractionation are negligible. Varied correlations between Mg/Ca and Sr/Ca ratios and divergent changes between δ13C values and Mg/Ca and Sr/Ca ratios from AD 700 to 1100 reveal that the prior calcite precipitation (PCP) and water-rock interaction did not dominate the increase of δ13C values. It is plausible that the obvious δ13C variation was largely influenced by the changes in vegetation cover overlying the cave. Our δ13C results, together with the records of climate and human activity from historical documentary records, suggest that: (i) prior to AD 700, small fluctuations in relatively light δ13C values reflect the presence of lush forest coverage above the cave, which was minimally disturbed by human activities; (ii) during AD 700-1100, the drastic increase in δ13C values indicates persistent and massive deforestation associated with large-scale immigration into northern Jiangxi after the Rebellion of An & Shi (AD 755-763) in the Tang Dynasty and the subsequent development of agriculture and economic activity; and (iii) since AD 1100, fluctuations in relatively high δ13C values suggest that local vegetation during the last millennium has been sparse. Since the Rebellion of An & Shi, southeastern China was progressively developed, coincident with deforestation and vegetation deterioration caused by human disturbance in the form of deforestation and cultivation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)511-525
Number of pages15
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015


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