Anthropogenic transitions from forested to human-dominated landscapes in southern Macaronesia

The extinction of iconic species such as the dodo and the defor-estation of Easter Island are emblematic of the transformative impact of human colonization of many oceanic islands, especially those in the tropics and subtropics. Yet, the interaction of prehis-toric and colonial-era colonists with the forests and forest resources they encountered can be complex, varies between islands, and re-mains poorly understood. Long-term ecological records (e.g., fossil pollen) provide the means to understand these human impacts in relation to natural change and variability pre-and postcolonization. Here we analyze paleoecological archives in forested landscapes of the Canary Islands and Cabo Verde, first colonized approximately 2,400 to 2,000 and 490 y ago, respectively. We demonstrate sensi-tivity to regional climate change prior to human colonization, fol-lowed by divergent but gradual impacts of early human settlement. These contrast with more rapid transformation in the colonial era, associated with significant increases in anthropogenic pressures. In the Canary Islands, at least two native tree taxa became extinct and lowland thermophilous woodlands were largely converted to agri-cultural land, yet relictual subtropical laurel forests persisted with limited incursion of nonnative species. In Cabo Verde, in contrast, thermophilous woodlands were depleted and substituted by open landscapes and introduced woodlands. Differences between these two archipelagos reflect the changing cultural practices and societal interactions with forests and illustrate the importance of long-term data series in understanding the human footprint on island ecosys-tems, information that will be critically important for current and future forest restoration and conservation management practices in these two biodiversity hotspots.